How to Prepare for Marriage–Not Just for the Wedding

How to Prepare for Marriage

Saying “I do” is the decision with perhaps the most chance of either incredible happiness or incredible danger in this life. How do you prepare for marriage so that “I do” is the beginning of bliss, rather than regret?

Yesterday I wrote about the ten things I wish I had known before I got married, and today I want to talk about how to prepare for that marriage.

I write on marriage and sex almost nonstop, and so I receive a lot of emails and questions from readers. And whenever I get an email from someone in trouble in their marriage, invariably there were signs before they were married. “He told me he’d look for full-time work after we got back from the honeymoon, but it’s six months and he’s still not doing anything!” “He told me he’d quit porn, but I caught him yesterday.” “Before we were married he was so romantic, but now he never wants to do anything with me at all.” (that last one may not look like it has red flags, but read on).

Marriage will always be, at least in part, a leap of faith. There will be surprises. You’ll never avoid them all. But I think, if you follow these steps, you can avoid the most difficult ones.

The most important thing when you’re marrying is character. If someone is of good character and loves God, you can work through pretty much anything. They’ll be able to hear from God, they’ll want to please God, and even if you have a big roadblock, they’ll likely try to solve it well. If someone has a weak character, though, no matter how much you love them, you’re going to run into some major problems.

Preparing for marriage, then, is largely about two things: making sure his character is good, and making sure you work together in the day-to-day.

Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

Do LIFE Together

Don’t do “dating” things. Do “life” things.

Here’s the difference. Dating says, “let’s get together every Tuesday and Saturday and go out to a movie and dinner, or catch a concert in a park, or go for ice cream.”

It’s all very lovely, but it tells you virtually nothing about how you will actually work on a day-to-day basis once you’re married. My husband and I go out for dinner maybe once every two weeks, if we’re lucky. Knowing how your fiance acts when you’re out to dinner, then, really doesn’t tell you how they’ll act normally.

Once you’re starting to get serious about someone, then, stop making “romantic” things the basis of your relationship, and start just living life. Go grocery shopping together. Cook dinner together. If you’re in school, hang out together for a few hours and just study together. Go to church together. Go to Bible study together. Do errands together.

Spend as much time as possible together that is unplanned. This lets you see what your boyfriend/fiance does when they have nothing particular planned. Since most of your life when you’re married will be like that, you want to see what it’s like now.

Red Flags:

  • Playing video games all the time
  • Not wanting to spend “hang out” time with you, because he only wants to “hang out” with the guys
  • Downtime being the equivalent of “let’s get drunk” time. If he needs alcohol every time he’s relaxing, that’s a bad sign.
  • Never having a hobby he wants to do with you. If you can’t take a dance class together, or exercise together, or collect something together, then chances are you’ll have nothing to do together once you’re married, either.
  • Never doing “normal” things. If, in all the time you spend together, he never has the initiative to fix a leaky faucet, to clean a bathroom, to repaint a pealing deck, then it’s unlikely he’s going to want to devote his Saturdays to that once he’s married, either. If he likes you hanging out so that you can clean his place while he relaxes, that’s likely what your weekends will look like, too.

Pursue God Together

God needs to be the centre of your marriage. All of us run into issues when we’re married, and if someone is a Christian, then you have a common basis so that you can solve it. You can talk about what God wants. You can talk about what’s wrong and what’s right. You can pray together and get other people to pray with you.

The saddest emails I get are from women whose husbands are involved in something really bad–like gambling or pornography–but their husbands aren’t really Christians. The women think it’s wrong, but the husbands say it’s no big deal. When you don’t have a common faith, you can’t deal with these things.

And when you don’t have a common strong faith, it’s very, very hard to pass on that faith to your children.

So while you’re getting to know each other, don’t just go to church together. Go to a small group Bible study together, whether it’s through church, through a campus ministry, or whatever. Pray together. Read a chapter of the Bible every time you’re together. You don’t have to do an in-depth study, but if you bring God into your life now, then it shows that your fiance actually wants God there.

I talk to so many women who say, “I thought he was a Christian because he went to my church, but he never prays and I never see him reading the Bible, and I feel so distant from him.” Don’t take church-going as a sign about whether or not he’s close to God. Look for more.

And pray with him! Many people don’t like praying out loud, but even if it’s just sentence prayers, show that you need it to be part of your relationship. If you can’t do it now, you won’t do it when you’re married.

Let's Pray Together


Red Flags:

  • He never talks about God outside of church
  • If you bring up God, he doesn’t really have an opinion
  • You never see him reading his Bible
  • He has no interest in prayer

Volunteer Together

Get out of the house and do something together! This helps you run from temptation (because it will get harder to wait until you’re married to make love the closer to the wedding you get) and it helps you to see if he is motivated to help others.

It may be teaching Sunday school or youth group, it may be belonging to a music team at church, it may be something in your community. But find something to do.

Red Flags:

  • If he has no interest in helping others, he likely is very self-focused and won’t want to help others in your married life, either. If it’s important to you that he’s involved in your children’s lives and activities, then make sure that he’s willing to sacrifice his own free time now, too.

Blend Your Families

When we’re dating, all that seems to matter is just the two of you. Once you’re married, his family becomes your family, and you’ll never be alone in the same way again.

Take the initiative to get to know his family. If they don’t live near you, suggest Skype dates. Have him get to know your family as well. See how he fits. If your family is important to you, then make sure that he actually enjoys being with them and makes an effort, rather than making you feel guilty for wanting to spend time with siblings.

Red Flags:

  • If he takes no interest in getting to know your family, or constantly criticizes them, he will not want to spend time with them once you’re married, and will likely resent the time you spend with them.
  • If he does errands for his parents, but refuses to do any for you, he could be too attached to his own family. Again, that’s unlikely to change once you’re married.
  • If he spends significant amounts of time with his family, but refuses to spend time with yours, makes excuses, or resents you for wanting to be with your family, then this will become a constant source of stress later, too. As much as possible, you should be able to spend equal times with each family without this being a source of conflict now. If it is, that’s a problem.

Blend Your Money

Obviously you can’t completely blend your money before you’re married, but you can create a budget, a debt repayment schedule, and a savings schedule. In fact,  you should.

Watch how he spends money. Is he careful with money, or does he not care about debt? Does he work hard for his money? Is he motivated to provide?

Red Flags:

  • If he won’t talk about whether or not he has debt, be careful. You both should fully disclose your financial situation before you marry.
  • If he spends money he doesn’t seem to have, and doesn’t like budgeting, this will likely continue into your marriage.

Identify a Mentor Couple

Notice that I didn’t say “take pre-marital counseling”. I actually do agree with counseling; it’s just that I’ve rarely known it to make a huge difference. Usually people go to counseling and hear all the warnings, but they go in one ear and out the other because people think, “that’s not about us. We’re actually IN LOVE. We won’t experience that.”

And then they get married and they do.

So I like the idea of pre-marital counseling, but I actually think it’s more important to have things in place so that when problems come after you get married, you have a way of dealing with them.

Identify a mentor couple that you can talk with periodically for your first two years together.

Red Flags:

  • If he refuses to do counseling or find a couple because “we don’t need that”, that’s likely a sign he’s unwilling to talk about deep issues.

Wait for Sex

Good Girls Guide My SiteHaving sex before you’re married does nothing to make sure you’re sexually compatible, because we change once we’re married. And couples who wait to have sex until they’re married have better sex afterwards. Please, wait until the wedding.

I’ve written about this numerous times before. And my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, lays it all out in great detail, and helps you prepare for a low-stress wedding night, too. And don’t forget to read this warning about when waiting until you’re married is hardest!

Red Flags:

  • If he insists on sex now, or pushes your boundaries, he’s unlikely to be able to wait for important things afterwards, too.
  • If you spend all of your time now “making out”, and very little doing important things, then your relationship may be built more on physical intimacy than spiritual and emotional intimacy. And that doesn’t bode well for the long run.

Falling in love is a heady time. It’s easy for our emotions to get the better of us. But choosing whom to marry is such a crucial decision. Don’t base it on feelings. Really get to know the other person, and take time to assess his character in a number of situations. You don’t get another chance at this, so do it right now, so that when you walk down that aisle, you’re confident that this is truly the man that God has for you.

WifeyWednesday175Wifey Wednesday Links!

Every Wednesday I like to link to some other great marriage posts from wonderful marriage bloggers I’ve found around the web. Here’s a bunch of posts on getting your marriage off to a great start:

Women Living Well: My Advice to a New Bride

Hot, Holy and Humorous: What I Wish I Had Known Before the Wedding Night

Happy Wives Club: The Best Marriage Advice I Ever Got

Messy Marriage: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married

Club 31 Women: 20 Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Marriage

Calm, Healthy, Sexy: 27 Things I Learned in 27 Years of Marriage


  1. “Marriage will always be, at least in part, a leap of faith. There will be surprises. You’ll never avoid them all.”

    This is sadly, so true. :( Am recalling just two instances (of many I personally know) of two godly wives that I personally know: one whose husband was a youth pastor, who, years into the marriage literally went to “visit some relatives overseas” and never came back; the other whose husband left her after revealing (decades later) that he was homosexual. Obviously, both women (and ministries) were devastated. Clearly, neither wife would have married these men had they known beforehand who they were deep down.

    This is what’s so frightening about marriage: the bitter reality that you just. don’t. know. who you’re marrying.

  2. Bethany says:

    I think this is stellar advice. And I am more thankful in reading it than I ever have been that my husband and I were very bad at doing dating things before we were married. We did church stuff, and cooked together, hung out together, etc. I do think this good advice sometimes doesn’t get followed because a lot of advice coming form Christian directions suggests creating a lot of distance between yourself and your significant other, so as not to fall into sexual temptation or in order to “guard your heart.” And that means people suggesting being out in public all the time and not really doing life together, because you are pushing the other person away. As important as I think chastity is, the way to chastity is not through fear or through an adversarial relationship, where you are constantly trying to protect yourself from the other person.

    • Bethany, that is such an excellent point! I hadn’t really thought of that, but it is true. We warn people so much not to be alone that perhaps they never do things like cook. So true!

    • What a struggle! How do you see if you are well-suited for marriage, without test-driving? (Even if you’re sexually pure, the emotional investment in constantly thinking about what kind of father/husband or mother/wife the person would be has totally devastated friends of mine after a breakup)

      Maybe you need to focus the early part of dating on determining the other person’s character / direction / personality, and then transition into how you both might live life together?

      • Or maybe protecting yourself from break-up pain isn’t a worthy goal? Maybe it’s better to take the relationship seriously and to be marriage-minded anyway.

  3. Good article! It was interesting as I read through the red flags, and noticed so many of them that I say with my ex-husband – and none of them with the man I will be marrying in 2 months! So very true!
    Katy recently posted…The Land of LakesMy Profile

  4. Thinking back we did not do a lot of what you suggest, Sheila. We DID wait for sex because we both believe that sex belongs within marriage. Before we married we talked very little about money. I worked in finance and my wife let me look after money matters abd still does, though I give her regular updates. We are both frugal. My wife did most of the housework but I looked after the outside and any ‘building maintenance’. Now retired I find that I do most of the work around the house and share in cooking because my wife has more health problems than I. Whatever we did ‘wrong’ does not seem to have mattered. We are wonderfully so much more in love after nearly 40 years and simply enjoy caring for each other and living together. Of course we pray together.

  5. Thanks so much for your tireless commitment to spouses on behalf of marriage! And thank you for including my link again. It’s always a privilege to be highlighted here among so many other great marriage bloggers, Sheila! Blessings to you!
    Beth recently posted…How to Let Bitterness GoMy Profile

  6. Love it!

    One of the ways we “did life” was to wallpaper someone’s living room. She was an older lady in the church, and couldn’t have done it herself, so my then-boyfriend had offered to help her. I went along, as I had nothing else to do that afternoon.
    Seeing how well we could work together, despite the homeowner sitting watching us and telling us how her late husband would have done it (and not offering us so much as a cup of tea!), and being able to laugh about it on the way home, was a great insight into his heart.
    We still laugh about that afternoon every time we decorate a room together. :)

  7. Yes You are right Sheila,

    Humility (Godly character) is one of the most important traits. For better is an “imperfect” man or woman with good character and humility because they will be subject for remolding than the one who seems to do everything just right “perfect”, but then lacks humility; for in fact he or she is not really “perfect” as it might seem to be which will later be revealed and if he/she lacks humility, then you are up to a good fight later down the road. For humility indeed, listen to the Word, listen to God, he/she does the Word, what it says, is up to edification, up to change, then in turn listen to others. If he doesn’t like to do budgeting for instance, or cleaning toilet, then once approached he will listen, will not follow his/her feelings; if she doesn’t like cooking, once approached, she will listen and make the necessary change, he/she will long to be a servant, a helper, not one that is happy when the other is down. And God has offered us an opportunity to really find out about this beforehand in his/her conduct with God’s word in whatever place. If he/she is not as humble but then if they are willing to be, God is able to give this gift of the Spirit. I myself am a male, and my character has changed A LOT! And basically listened and listened and changed and changed according to God’s word, my parents and cousins advice, and here now I basically can do everything in my house, every house duty, and love to, and almost ready to cross to the other side (Marriage), and I still continue to change for the better (changing to the image of Christ attitude I believe is the key) still not perfect. .

  8. I absolutely LOVE your posts. This one is really good. I have been married 3 years and looking back, there are things I would change about how we dated. We did almost everything you said not to, and almost never did the things you should. All bc we were strictly raised and never informed otherwise. It was nearly impossible to “live life” when we had to schedule around a chaperone. But the best part, is I am learning how to teach my kids differently so they dont make the same mistakes. :)

    • Okay, this is really SO interesting. That’s the second person who has mentioned this! I’m going to have to write a follow-up post on this because I’m really intrigued, and I have to think this one through. My oldest daughter is currently dating a guy and they definitely “do life” together. It does mean that they’re alone sometimes, but I also think in the long run this is likely safer (and they are still chaste).

    • Elizabeth says:

      Tiffany, I agree with you — my husband and I never got to do REAL things because of the chaperones that his parents insisted upon! If I could do it all again, I would have put my foot down about that… especially since the chaperone actually was completely ineffective. If we could have put our energy into doing things instead of into NOT doing things, I think our time spent before marriage would have been a lot better and more helpful for us (and others).

      Long story short… when we had time to be together just doing every day stuff, we had a lot more self-control than we did when we had a useless chaperone who wouldn’t let us do ANYTHING together. We still weren’t perfect but it was better.

  9. Wow, is it widespread for young adults to be told they can’t be alone with their boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance/fiancee? And to have chaperones? I had no idea. That just seems strange on so many levels, and a really bad way to prepare for marriage. I definitely understand that couples want to avoid some situations. But cooking dinner together, painting a room together, running errands, watching a movie at her or his apartment, etc. – those are just normal parts of life that young adults need to be able to do with each other. I really like what Elizabeth said – “put energy into doing things instead of NOT doing things.”

    Thanks so much, Sheila, for sharing my post.
    Gaye @CalmHealthySexy recently posted…6 Ways to Enjoy Life More this SummerMy Profile

  10. I would suggest to babysit together. This can reveal someones character as in how they deal with kids, how they react in stressful situations and whether they are selfish or not. Plus you get to see how other people do “family” and can discuss what you agree with and what you would do differently.

  11. Love your post,very beautiful and concise .
    I was reading through your post as my husband of 4 years was sitting next to me and playing his video game for the past 1/2 hr,even though this post is for to be married people.I couldn’t stop laughing at the irony of the situation for the point
    “Playing video games all the time”.
    At Least this caught his attention and the man was quick to defend his love :D.Well atleast now the video game can get a rest :).Thanks for the post :)
    Godly Indian Mom recently posted…Toddler Favorite Activities Part 1My Profile

  12. I’d like to add another tip. . .after a year of dating in person and doing all things on your list (pats self on back), my husband and I spent 4 years long distance. For two of those years we were in separate countries, and then for two of those years we were in different states. It turns out that long-distance is great for couples because you can only TALK. This was in the days before Skype. We would chat for hours on end and really got to know each other outside the context of church groups and dates and activities. We became good story tellers and learned so much. So I tell my friends to “fake” long-distance sometimes. Have a nice long phone chat. It might not be physically satisfying or seem as entertaining at first, but commitment is not about being feeling good and being entertained—it’s about being there for the long haul. Those four years were so hard for us, but sometimes I want to just call him while he’s at work and have a 2 hour heart-to-heart gab session. God really blessed us during that distance.
    Heather recently posted…losing my head over hashbrownsMy Profile

    • Rachael Lewis says:

      I’m currently in a long distance relationship, and we DID live by each other for a while. But I do agree that it is good for us (we’re looking at getting married in the next year) because we talk about everything from our families, to how we spend our money, to work, to our walk with God, to how we would parent, music, books, etc. We read books, and send little encouraging things to each other throughout the day. It’s not always easy, but I see God working in our relationship constantly, and I feel like we both have grown quite a bit through this tough season.

    • unmowngrass says:

      I agree, but only in part. (Disclosure: I met my fiancé via the internet (we were in a writing competition together); I’m in the UK, he’s in California, USA; we’re getting married next spring.)

      We video chat every day, and often have done hours at a time. It really has been a wonderful way to get to know each other, because all we can do is talk, or maybe play games together. BUT, when we DO see each other, few and far between as those visits may be*, the sexual tension takes off like a rocket — SO much more powerful than you’d think it would be, because of all those months you’ve been waiting. It really blindsided us, so I’d definitely recommend a plan to deal with that.

      * I would hope that everyone would agree that it’s important to meet each other in person before you decide to get married! For all our talking, that does only produce a limited view, and he wasn’t quite how I had pictured him. In our case, mostly that just meant he was more shy than I expected, but if instead it had been more angry, for example, that obviously would have made me think seriously about our relationship.

  13. Rachael Lewis says:

    I’d also like to add that I was previously married (from ages 19-22), and a lot of the red flags you listed (addictions, being one way at church vs. at home, how they are around kids, etc.) were struggles in my first marriage, along with a lot of other things. My boyfriend is aware of all of those things as well, and we have both discussed what we DON’T want our marriage to be like. It’s not a source of shame for me anymore, and God did use my pain as a way to draw closer to Him, and I learned a LOT.

  14. I LOVE this post. My favorite suggestions (and the most overlooked, perhaps) are to volunteer together and to pursue God together. The point of a godly marriage, after all, is for two people becoming one to accomplish more for Christ’s Kingdom than either half could do alone. Thanks for providing this excellent advice for singles. I’ll be sharing this on my FB page for A Divine Encounter!
    Jennifer recently posted…you are beautiful ~ Grace & Truth Linkup (Week 2)My Profile

  15. This is one of the best articles I’ve come across on the subject of preparing for marriage. It’s highly informative and in line with my beliefs. I’ll be referring back to this often, and thank you for keeping it real and including helpful links.

  16. Bonifasius says:

    Is really informative ..

  17. Its lovely

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