Hindsight is indeed 20/20. I would not go back and change my decision to marry, even though it ended in divorce. Our experiences made me who I am today and my kids are the best thing that's ever happened to me. That being said, I would absolutely pay closer attention to these pieces of great advice before getting married again, because I now know how truly important they are.
1. Get married when you actually want to -- not just because everyone else is doing it.
You don't have to get married at a prescribed age or stage of your life. I know people who have married their high school sweethearts and are still going strong, and other folks who didn't meet their soul mates until they were well into their 40s or 50s. It's hard not to succumb to the peer pressure of your 20s when it seems like you are in a never-ending rotation of bridesmaid dresses and invites to bachelorette parties. But waiting until you are very, very sure it's the right time for you is the most important thing. Sure, the wedding is fun, but the marriage is the real adventure: don't you want to set sail with the actual, right person?
2. Passion doesn't equal lasting love, even if it really, really seems like it.
We've all been in the "honeymoon" phase of our marriage and we've all said, "No, no but THIS is the real deal." Awesome chemistry, late nights talking for hours, and can't-breathe-without-you rushes are incredible and probably the most fun parts of falling in love, but you also need someone who will be there when you are on day three of a stomach bug, day 37 of a not-sleeping newborn, and who is still attractive to you during mundane day in/day out tasks like arguing over taking out the garbage because honestly, that's the real stuff you'd should be keeping in mind.
3. Fall for the person they are, not the person you think they could be.
People typically are who they appear to be, especially if you've been dating for a bit. While you should expect to grow together as a couple, you should not expect them to change who they really are at their core. So if you are thinking, "Man, things would be a lot better if he would only..." chances are you'll be left wishing for that for a long, long time.
4. Have the money talk: how they (and you) manage their personal finances as a single person really matters.
You should indeed talk about credit scores, spending habits, how you'll manage household finances and other really boring, yet critical, details. Money is typically off the table for most polite conversation, but let me tell you, get real about cash from the get-go. Marriage is all about compromise in the banking department and your shoe habit and his credit card debt left un-talked about equals a recipe for disaster.
5. If you have any doubts, it's never too late to say "no."
Listen up sisters, this is a big one. Even if you are way down the line in planning a wedding and cold feet are feeling like more than just that, it is way better to say it as soon as you have doubts than go through with a wedding and marriage because you feel like you have to. Honesty and being true to yourself are paramount; do you and the rest will follow. Will it be hard, painful and a little embarrassing? Maybe. But so is divorce, so do yourself a favor and figure this out before you become legally bonded.
6. Religion, holidays, and celebrations are the building blocks of relationship and family.
Make sure you are on the same page about how you will include these pieces in your married life and when (if) you have children. My ex and I discovered too late how mismatched we were when it came to holiday celebrations; my expectations were often crushed and he felt like he could do no right. We still don't agree on Santa and this has resulted in some unfortunate holiday-time conflict.
Note: I know many, many successful, loving couples from different religions, cultures, and traditions. Their success is because they have come to a strong compromise where everyone feels heard. Do you go overboard on birthdays and expect the same? Is having a menorah at Channukah non-negotiable? How do you like to be surprised on a special occasion?
Express all of this before you are married to make sure you're entering an open, fun and reciprocal relationship.
7. Listen to your gut: red flags are red flags.
We all have it; a woman's intuition, that small voice; gut instinct. Whatever you call it, pay attention to it. If you are getting signals that turn into alarm bells, it's really important to take heed and as early as you can. This is especially true if he is controlling, aggressive, has an addictive personality, or is physically/emotionally abusive. Only you know your relationship and all of these behaviors start small and get more serious with time; pay attention and reach out if you need help.
8. You should be with someone who helps you become even more YOU.
If you feel like you are the only one compromising, or like you have to give up your hobbies or dreams to make your future partner happy, then you might want to really take a look at your relationship. My new boyfriend encourages me to take time for myself and is the reason I finally auditioned for a local theater production and got cast! You should both be the biggest cheerleaders in each other's lives; your relationship should lift both of you up.