Alex and I got engaged September 15, 2012 and got married exactly one year later on September 14, 2013. Our year engagement felt a little long to us, but we now know that it was perfect timing and God's plan for us.
We both agreed that an engagement period of at least 4-6 months is preferable. We think waiting at least four months allows you time to prepare, seek the Lord, and exercise the self-control that will be needed even once you are married. However, we know that the Lord has different plans for different couples, and we aren't in any position to stand in the way of those plans. :)
The year Alex and I spent engaged was full of a ton of change, but there are four things we intentionally did that maximized our engagement period, later helping us in our first year of marriage.
Doing these four things won't mean that your first year of marriage will be bliss (it might be, it might not be!), but they will help prepare you for the journey that's ahead.
When Alex and I got engaged, we met with a couple that we both deeply respect and love. They told us something we will never forget: "Most couples divorce over problems related to communication or money, so if you can target those two things then you will have a good foundation." This stuck with us, and our marriage preparations centered around these two things, so without further introduction...
1. Enroll in a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class
Alex and I had talked about money prior to being engaged, but this class took our discussions to the next level. While there are a couple of things that we disagree with, the majority of what Dave Ramsey says is sound and logical advice that every American needs to hear. Since taking this class, we have recommended it to our friends (married, single, and engaged), because we think it is SO. IMPORTANT.
This class opens up the floor for discussion about financial matters, and more importantly gives you the tools and steps necessary to start your marriage off on the right financial foot. Even if you think you are smart with money (Alex and I would consider ourselves good with money), there are valuable lessons to glean from Dave Ramsey's principles making it so so so worth your time and money. This class addresses debt, insurance, investments, and budgeting really giving you a solid knowledge base that will allow you to make smart financial decisions and not find yourself 10 years down the road in your marriage wishing you hadn't made the dumb financial decisions you did.
The classes are offered at local churches in almost every town. The class costs $70-90 and is a total of 13 sessions, but I can tell you that is the best time and money that I have ever spent. Truly. The fee includes all the materials, as well as a lifetime membership allowing you access to all the online resources.To find out more, head over here .
Alex and I had our share of disagreements and fights during our first year of marriage, but not a single one was about money or finances, and we truly credit it to taking this class. Do it. Please. (And please feel free to ask me any questions you may have about it).
2. Get premarital counseling.
We addressed the issue of finances with step #1, and now we're addressing the issue of communication in step #2. No matter how long you've been together, how compatible you think you are, or how well you think you communicate, you will benefit from premarital counseling. Involving a third party exposes things that you may have not talked about before, and helps you explore issues that were discussed previously but not in depth.
Premarital counseling is almost always offered through your church (and is a requirement in some churches), or you can get it through a local counseling agency.
Our particular course was 6 weeks long and examined rules for communicating, intimacy, and dealing with extended family, to name a few.
One thing that our premarital counseling did not include, that we would strongly recommend, is followup after the wedding. You can do all the counseling in the world but you don't really know what marriage is like until you're actually there. Actually being married will expose issues that no amount of counseling will reveal prior to the wedding day. See if the couple or pastor or counselor who is meeting with you will meet with you once or twice (or more!) after the wedding. This followup will help you work through issues that will inevitably arise following your wedding day.
3. Read the book, "Before You Plan Your Wedding, Plan Your Marriage."
This book is written by Greg and Erin Smalley, and gives practical advice to breaking unhealthy patterns that are likely present in your relationship. We personally read this book in our engagement period and found it to be the most helpful. This book complemented and reinforced the lessons we were learning in our premarital counseling, and we both loved the practicality of its principles (think step-by-step guide).
I have recommended this book to all the engaged couples that I know, as well as married, and single (but dating) friends because I believe the principles the authors talk about are invaluable at any point of your relationship with another person. I only wish I had read this book earlier in our relationship because it's advice would have saved Alex and I from falling into some of the ugly cycles and destructive patterns that we did.
The last thing I want to point out is there is a ton of literature out there discussing marriage. You could spend years pouring through all the books that have been written on this topic. And to this point I want to say- don't overwhelm yourself with 3.2 million books that you feel like you have to read on marriage. If this book sounds like it is for you, great; if it doesn't, great.
We read two books in our year engaged and two books only. Look at your options, decide which is best for you as a couple, and don't worry about the rest. It's easy to get trapped in thinking you should read 10 books on marriage before you walk down the aisle. Choose one or two to read during your engagement period and then work through the rest after you're married. You've got your whole life to read them all!
4. Spend time together NOT doing wedding stuff
It's so easy when you're engaged to suddenly let all the time you spend with your significant other revolve around wedding planning. Fortunately, Alex and I didn't have a huge problem with this because #1 he didn't care too much about all the details and the ones he did care about I let him have control over, and #2 I wasn't much into wedding planning myself so our time together, for the most part, didn't include discussions about table decorations, dress colors, or flowers.
A large majority of our time was spent in Financial Peace University and premarital classes, but we enjoyed what we were learning, and we were excited to be preparing for our future together. It's easy to get overwhelmed by books, classes, and things you are told you need to do to prepare for marriage, so we tell couples to pick and choose a few things and focus on those and (politely) ignore or decline the rest.
And one of the most important things you can do is to have fun and just enjoy each other. After all, you're getting married and it's a beautiful time of life!
Both of us would agree that engagement wasn't our favorite season of life, but we learned so many valuable lessons because we were intentional about preparing for marriage.
Those are the four best things I did while I was engaged. What do you think? What other things would you add?
Linking up with a Jack of All Trades
Linking up with a Jack of All Trades