In between tears of joy, you’ll squeak out a yes! if the man you love ever proposes. But put your happily-ever-after fantasies on pause until you consider these sobering truths from the Center for Marriage and Families: About 45 percent of marriages fall apart. And the rates of divorce and separation for Blacks have risen during the last several decades. “We date who a person appears to be, but we marry who they are,” says Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House and author of the relationship self-help book Before You Do (Atria). These are the minister’s best tips for getting to know your boo before he mentions jumping the broom:

Prepare for a Lifetime

People don’t think about whether the person they are dating has the tenacity to withstand losing the house or a child getting cancer,” explains Jakes. Romantic? Maybe not, but it’s essential to consider. To ascertain if your guy has what it takes, Jakes advises you to pay attention to how he treats people, such as waitresses and cab drivers, in difficult situations. Notice, too, how committed he is to keeping his word. These observations will offer you the clearest sense of his character.

 Do Your Research

You don’t have to check on your beau at, but you should know as much about him as possible. “You can end up in bed with a stranger, even though you have rings that match,” observes the bishop. Before You Do has 20 essential questions you must ask your mate before making a serious commitment. They include “Do you know your HIV status?” and “What is your debt-to-income ratio?” Says Jakes, “If you are careful about who you invest time in and do the background work, a lot of relationship mistakes can be avoided.”

Give up on Perfection

There is no such thing as a problem-free marriage or a perfect person. “The best you can hope for is that someone is 80 percent of what you’re looking for,” adds Jakes. “You can find pretty close or almost, but you’re not going to find Mr. Right.” In his book, Jakes suggests that instead of searching for an ideal who doesn’t exist, women should invest in a man who complements them. For instance, if you live to shop but he’s good with budgeting, he’s a man who can help you prepare for your financial future. Love him—and his flaws.

Do Set Ground Rules

To make the most of your partnership, establish five to ten parameters for each other that the two of you are forced to respect. These boundaries will vary by couple, but could include asking your partner to consult with you on all financial decisions or never use something you’ve told him in confidence against you in an argument. “You need to go into marriage understanding that your spouse is not perfect. And you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and make the relationship work,” says Jakes. “To get to 20 or 50 years, you have to take the bitter with the sweet.”

For more tips on love from Bishop T.D. Jakes, check out the September 2008 issue of ESSENCE now on sale.

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