When I was 23, I married the man of my dreams. He was everything I was looking for. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

Or so I thought. We were divorced six months later.

How does that happen?

The heart has blind spots. Sometimes we don’t truly see who we’re with until it’s too late. It’s also hard to know what’s really going to count in a marriage without ever having experienced it before.

The heart has blind spots. Sometimes we don’t truly see who we’re with until it’s too late.

So how do you make sure you get it right the first time around?

It’s about effective dating and putting certain boundaries in place to make sure you have objectivity. Based on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of others who had broken engagements or got divorced, here are some essential dating guidelines for a happy, healthy marriage that lasts.

The Difference Between a Boyfriend/Girlfriend and a Spouse

What makes for an enjoyable dating relationship doesn’t necessarily make for a good marriage. Chemistry, shared values, shared interests, good conversation are all important, but they only get you so far. For marriage, you need to focus in on this being your life partner. What would the ins and outs of daily life be like with this person? Because that’s what most of your marriage is going to be.

The real predictor of happiness in your marriage is how the person treats you. Are they good to you, sensitive to your feelings and wellbeing, and want to make you happy? Can they put your needs before their own, at least some of the time? Does it bother them to take your wants into consideration?

The real predictor of happiness in your marriage is how the person treats you.

These are the things that will count day to day, much more than romance, conversation, and common interests. For example, how would this person be if you were sick or going through a hard time? Would they be supportive, helpful, giving… or just care about how it affects them? What would it be like to raise children with this person or take care of a home? If there was something burdensome or annoying to take care of, would the person try to spare you having to do it all yourself, or would they try to avoid it even if it means it would all land on you?

Date Purposefully

I know it feels hard enough to just find someone you find attractive and whose company you enjoy. Sometimes when you find that, you just want to enjoy it for a while and not pay such close attention to other things. But that is risky. You can end up with the wrong person, put yourself through serious heartbreak, or waste valuable time.

The Jewish view on dating is to date purposefully. Rather than just seeing if you like someone and then passively "see where it goes", when you meet someone you want to proactively evaluate if they are marriage material before you allow yourself to develop a bond. To do this effectively, the most important things to look for are the person’s character, how they treat you, and if you have shared values.

Once you’ve determined this is a good person to be married to, then see if there’s chemistry.

Decide these things early on, because once a couple is emotionally involved, they tend to see what they want to see, not necessarily what is really there. Once you’ve determined this is a good person to be married to, then see if there’s chemistry. Chemistry can sometimes come later, but good character never comes later.

If you’ve determined this person has good qualities but you don’t feel chemistry, give it a chance until it feels like it’s just too much of a pain to keep seeing this person. Fun and romance aren’t necessarily forever, but character is. Being a good person doesn’t automatically make the person right for you – chemistry is important too – but it’s valuable enough to invest the time to see if that chemistry can develop.

How Do You Make Decisions Together?

Some people make the mistake of thinking they should find someone who wants all the same things they do. For example, where they want to live, what kind of school they want to send their kids to, how much a spouse will work vs stay home.

At the time, the person feels certain this is what they want but they don’t realize that often these things change with time and life experience. Sometimes when you’re actually living with your choices, you realize new things that make you feel differently and you want to adjust. So don’t put so much emphasis on the actual decisions themselves, as much as your ability to work together to come to decisions.

Do they show flexibility in their thinking? Do they show respect and care about the impact a decision has on you?

From where you want to spend your time together to how you handle time with each other’s families, pay attention to the person’s approach to decision making. Do they show the ability to be flexible in their thinking and the humility to take in new information and accommodate accordingly? Do they show respect and care about the impact a decision has on you? Do they hold your opinions in high regard? Do they collaborate with you on decisions and are you able to do so peacefully? If you value and prioritize the same things, it will be easier to make decisions together as well.

Don’t make excuses for someone’s poor treatment. If you settle when it comes to a person’s character or how they treat you, you may spend the rest of your life regretting it. Focus on the day to day. It can be better to be miserably single and looking but still have the option of happiness, than locked into something that doesn’t feel good every day.