Plan for the best

If marriage is in your near future, and you’re one of those people who sees an old couple holding hands on the boardwalk and you say “Man, I want that someday” then lend your ears. I’m no marital expert, and marriage certainly has many facets to it, but I hope that what I have to share can truly do wonders for ensuring your marriage can stand the test of time.

My husband and I were 23 years old when we got married. I cannot tell you how many people we had willing to jump out of their seats shouting about what a bad idea it was for us to be getting married so young – and so quickly. We had a rather whirlwind courtship and engagement before taking the plunge into marriage. We were engaged after only five months, and married eight months after that. But what we told people then, and what I still say today is that when it comes to dating and engagement, it’s not the quantity of time the couple has together that matters, but rather the quality of the time spent. In other words – what are you doing during your courtship? Are you doing everything you can to make that time count?

Falling in love truly is one of the greatest adventures humans can ever experience, so it makes sense that a couple can very easily get caught up in the glorious, dizzying emotional highs of being in love with each other, and fall into the false hope that “love” is all they’ll ever need to get through life together. I’d like to make the sobering assertion that, unfortunately, no, love is NOT all that you will need in order for your marriage to endure the many challenges and victories that life will throw at you over the years. You will need patience, tolerance, gentleness, perseverance, creativity, forgiveness, spontaneity, compassion, endurance, flexibility, fortitude, a sense of humor, and I’m just scratching the surface! With divorce as readily available and commonly practiced as it is in our society, for couples who are actually serious about wanting to spend their lives together till death do them part, it is imperative that they take the measures necessary to truly prepare for their marriage. I’m not talking about picking out floral bouquets and bowtie colors. I’m talking about planning – not for a wedding day, but for a lifetime of marriage.

We all know communication is the key to any good relationship, but communication about what? Sure, it’s important to talk with your partner about your day-to-day minutia, but those details only wade into the shallow end of who you are. It’s always good to share about your interests, hobbies, opinions, etc., but those details are subject to change over time as you mature and discover more about how you fit into the world. So what should a couple preparing for marriage be communicating about? Well, I’m going to take a shot in the dark and suggest they should be talking about – their marriage.

Taking the time dive into the deep end and hash out fundamental issues that might come up between them over the course of a lifetime together is the best thing a couple can do to prepare for their marriage. The two main areas that the couple should communicate through PRIOR to getting married are: resolving current relationship issues (rather than assuming marriage will “fix” their problems or that they can “change” their spouse), and fully discussing their hopes and expectations for the future.

You’ll want to start by figuring out HOW to talk to each other. If this seems silly to you because it comes so naturally to you and your partner, consider yourself very blessed, because believe it or not, some couples do struggle with this most basic skill.
How do you like to communicate? Do you prefer to “check-in” many times throughout the day to share news or do you look forward to one long conversation at the end of the day? When a disagreement occurs, do you prefer both people fully sharing their side and then enter into discussion, or do you prefer a continual back-and-forth? Is there a vocal volume that you cannot tolerate and therefore you shut down at a certain point? Do you sometimes need a minute to just walk away and cool down before you can have a conversation about it? Let your significant other know what your preferences are for communicating. Lay down ground rules. If you can both agree on those, then trust me when I tell you, you’re already heads and shoulders above many couples when it comes to communication!

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for discussion, you’re able to move into the big issues. Some examples of things you want to discuss are: past hurts you’re still holding onto, specific fears you might have, how you plan to handle finances, how many children you are open to having, potential parenting strategies, how/where to spend holidays, where to go to Church, willingness to travel or relocate, role expectations within the marriage, desires for advancement in education and careers, as well as hopes/anxieties about sexual intimacy (fidelity, frequency, leadership/initiative, how to nurture passion over time, etc.).

As I said, those are just some examples of issues you’ll want to work through. Sit down with your partner at some point and write out a list of issues that are important to the two of you to talk about. Designate a certain time when you’ll tackle an issue on the list – whether it’s once a day or once a week. Take time to thoroughly resolve each topic before moving onto another. Some issues may take longer than others to come to an agreement on, and that’s okay. What’s important is openness in communication and patience with each other while you plan for an amazing future together.

If a couple has diligently prepared for marriage by coming to understand one another’s goals for their life together before stating their vows, it will make their vows all the more meaningful because they will really know who they are marrying and what they both expect from the marriage. They will have full knowledge of the commitment they are entering into and this will directly affect – in a most positive way – the longevity of their marriage.

I stated earlier that it is the quality of time a couple spends together that makes a difference in the success of their future together. Although my husband and I had a fairly short courtship by today’s standards, we made every minute of that time count. Once we started to see marriage in our future, we spent many long hours getting to know each other intimately by making decisions about these major life issues. You usually hear about couples getting cold feet before their wedding, as they are bombarded with panicky fears about what the future might hold. I can honestly say, I did not have that sensation at all. I had jitters, sure, but they were jitters of excitement to marry the man that I was certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, would be by my side for the rest of my life. You often hear the phrase “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” Well, I’d like to make a bold amendment to that statement for those who desire the best for the future of their relationship.

When it comes to your marriage – hope for the best, AND plan for the best.