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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
Having 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 Girl’s 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!
- 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.
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