We don’t need to worry about all of the little decisions we make every day, but we should pause to think about the important ones. Choosing whether to get married is one of the most important decisions we make, but we, the American public, are not very good at it.

Each year we attend weddings that are filled with hopes and dreams, clinking champagne glasses, dancing, and cake. Meanwhile, the divorce rate of first-time marriages in the United States hovers around 50%. Second and third marriages have an even worse rate of success. So in the aggregate, we are getting it right less than 50% of the time. A random coin-flip has better odds!

How can so many of these marriages turn out so vastly different from our expectations? For a lot of people, the decision to get married is purely animal instinct—a gut-level reaction on steroids. Perhaps this is slightly better than a coin-flip, but according to the statistics, aren’t achieving better results.

What is the secret to making the right decision about whether to get married and to whom?

Before we look at how to increase the chances of entering into a successful marriage, let’s define marriage: Marriage = Romance + Hunting and Nesting

If two people decide to live together, they are agreeing to share in the hunting and nesting responsibilities. In the wild, animals hunt for food and take care of their offspring for a time. Human beings are the same. At least one person has to “hunt.” In the modern world, “hunting” means earning money to pay for the goods and services necessary to survive and thrive. If both parties work, the nesting part can be outsourced by hiring help such as a cleaning lady or a nanny if there are children. Even if there are no children, nesting includes buying food, cooking it, cleaning up, and taking care of the home. Having children just makes nesting a larger part of the relationship.

No matter how sexually attracted two partners are to each other, the combined number of times they shop for food, cook, clean, take out the garbage, and attend to all of the other mundane things involved in daily life will far outnumber the instances in which they have sex.

It is often said that the two most common reasons for divorces is stress caused by lack of money and stress caused by the effort of raising children. These are completely foreseeable issues, so they shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. It is how we react to those stress points that can cause problems.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article next week where I apply my framework to the decision to get married.