As a bride or groom-to-be who is on the horizon of marriage, this is an exciting time in your life. I remember the feelings and emotions when I was engaged to my husband and planning our pre-Christmas wedding. We worked out like crazy so we could look our very best on our wedding night. We planned our wedding for six months straight and I didn’t “rest” from the planning until our rehearsal dinner and even then, there were always details to organize. We were elated. It was such a special time in our lives.
One day during our engagement period, I got a call from my brother-in-law Paul who is a decade older than me and is a respected pastor, chaplain, and counselor. He told me a book would be on its way for Jeremiah and me to go through as a couple.
I was a bit nervous about it at first, but figured it would be good for us. We were busy seminary students but I knew we needed something to help prepare us for marriage. In no time, it had arrived. Preparing for Marriage: Discover God’s Plan for a Lifetime of Love by Dennis Rainey was the title. That book ended up being the best investment. Every week we went through the chapters and answered the questions. It helped us lay everything on the table regarding important issues and any red flags in our relationship.
Chances are, you’re in over your head preparing to make your wedding day special just like every normal bride-to-be. But may I encourage you to begin the discipline of preparing for the many, many ordinary days after the bliss and elation of your wedding day? Having just reached the ten-year mark of marriage with my husband, I’m so grateful we put into practice these four non-negotiables before we pledged our lives to one another and I hope they will help you too:
1. Invest your time into solid marriage counseling.
My encouragement would be to work hard at finding a pastor or counselor who will invest their time into helping you and your fiancé make sure you are truly ready for marriage. Solid, pre-marital counseling will give you the freedom to dig deep into your past and current struggles to see how they might impact your future marriage. It is critical to do the hard work on this prior to your big day.
Many couples are completely blindsided after marriage by the difficulties and trials that come their way and they just can’t make their marriage work. I had a professor once say that if you can make it past the first three years of marriage, then you can make it for the long haul. I recommend choosing counseling from a biblical perspective and receiving it from an experienced pastor or counselor who is honest about the marriage relationship and will help you see if you and your fiancé should continue moving forward together. Strong marriage counseling will also refer you to great resources to encourage you.
2. Give your family and friends permission to speak into your relationship.
Do those who know you the best agree with your decision to marry your fiancé? I realize this can be a hard one for younger generations because we don’t always like being told what to do or receiving constructive criticism. But we are doing ourselves an enormous favor by allowing those we love to give us their perspective and insight. They can see things that we can’t. Many of them have wisdom and life experiences that we simply haven’t had yet. We also need to surround ourselves with people who will sharpen, encourage, strengthen, and build up our relationship in the engagement period and on into marriage.
3. Be willing to admit your own brokenness.
No one is perfect. No relationship or marriage is perfect. As much as we’d love to witness one, no one has a Cinderella story. Conflict is a natural part of life and our selfish, sinful nature invites all kinds of mess into our life. We see this in the divorce statistics within the church and outside the church. The greatest thing you can understand before entering the marriage covenant is to be able to recognize where change is needed within yourself.
Identifying sin patterns and struggles will help you as you prepare to share those struggles with your spouse, living side by side with one another under the same roof. You will never be able to change your fiancé or spouse, but you can change yourself. Understanding that you and your fiancé are both broken people will help you when the going gets tough.
4. Embrace the Journey.
Engagement is only the beginning of a lifetime of lessons. If you don’t see immediate results in your dreams, desires, or goals as a couple, be patient. There is beauty in time. If you don’t see things fixed right away in the heart of the one you love, remember that growth is a process. If you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing exactly in your careers, just take the next step. But make sure you’re on the same page spiritually and emotionally.
You want to move forward in marriage with someone who values what you value, who lives a life of integrity, who will honor, respect, and cherish you, and who will run the race beside you for the long haul – in sickness and in health, until death you do part. Above all, enjoy the moments you have together in this time of planning and preparation. It will go fast and before you know it, you too will be cutting cake on your ten-year anniversary.