Recently, a couple I'll call Steve and Laura came to my office for counseling. Sitting at opposite ends of the couch, they hardly looked at each other.


When I asked them what brought them to therapy, Laura blurted, "We never should have gotten married in the first place!  Our four years together have been plagued with nasty fights followed by long periods of strained silence.  Who needs it?"


I asked Steve to give his assessment.


"All that's true," he said. "But she didn't mention that we have absolutely nothing in common."


How in the world did these two get together?  I wondered.


It turns out they had met during their college years, where both were involved in student leadership. They looked good together as a couple, everyone said they were "made for each other," and both were tired of being single. 


So after six months of starry-eyed dating filled with all the intoxicating feelings of romance, they said their vows and began their lives together.


"About a week after we returned from the honeymoon," Laura said, "it dawned on both of us-we made a huge mistake."


Then Steve hit the bull's-eye: "We were so swept away by our whirlwind romance that we failed to look at each other realistically. We never stopped to think if we were well matched for a long-term relationship."


As a psychologist who works with dozens of singles and married couples every year, I am constantly amazed at how many people stumble their way into marriage-and then wonder why their relationship grows miserably stagnant or chronically contentious. They simply did not approach this monumental decision objectively and proactively.


If you want to give yourself the best chance for a fulfilling and lasting marriage, consider the following factors for choosing a mate:


1. Your choice of whom to marry is more crucial than everything else combined that you will ever do to make your marriage succeed. This principle may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the large percentage of singles who have the attitude that says, "I just want to get married, and once I've got my man (or woman), then we'll work things out."  Lonely and worried they'll never marry, many singles are so intent on getting to "I do" that they don't invest the necessary time and effort to make a great decision. Most of the failed marriages I have encountered were in trouble the day they began. The two people involved simply chose the wrong person to marry.