When Choosing a Spouse, the Past is the Best Predictor of the Future


This story appeared in Henry Cloud’s book Necessary EndingsCloud told the story of a father who knew his daughter’s boyfriend was about to ask for her hand in marriage and he asked Henry Cloud how he should handle it, what he should ask the man asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Here’s the story

My friend told me that his daughter’s boyfriend had called and asked him to go to dinner, and he expected the proverbial “asking for her hand” conversation. He wanted some advice on how to handle that question, and I could understand his trepidation. Few thoughts are scarier to a father than wondering, Will this guy love her, treat her well, and take good care of her? As a father of two girls, as I look into the future, I could already feel what that must have felt like for my friend. We talked about how to handle it, and then I said, “After all of that, tell him that you would like to see his credit report and his last two years’ tax returns.” “What? You have got to be joking!” he exclaimed. “Not at all. I am dead serious,” I said. “Why? I can’t ask him how much money he makes. That’s so intrusive and the wrong message. Marriage is not about how much money he makes.” “Exactly, and money has nothing to do with my suggestion. I don’t care about the numbers at all, how much he makes. Tell him to blot them out if he wants. I only care about two things. First, the credit report will give you a peek into how he has fulfilled other promises he has made to people who have entrusted things to him. If he can’t be trusted to fulfill the promises he makes with something such as money, which is not nearly as valuable as your daughter, how are you going to trust him with real treasure? I would see a big yellow flag if he has a history of bailing out on commitments he has made to lenders or others.” While my friend was still trying to absorb the idea of asking for a credit report, I homed in on the tax return. “I don’t care what the numbers are. I just want to know if he has done them. Does he take responsibility for his life and get things like taxes done? If he hasn’t, then that is a sign of what your daughter is signing up for in the future: chaos and uncertainty that come from his character. That would be another big warning. No matter what his financial situation is, I would want to know that he obeys the law, has his affairs in order, gets his taxes done, and sends them in. “So, the message here has nothing to do with money. It has to do with looking at his past behavior in some areas that count: promises, commitments, and responsibility, and then seeing what the track record has been. That is important because the best predictor of the future is the past. What he has done in the past will be what he does in the future, unless there has been some big change. You can bet on it,” I told him.