Communication, communication, communication.
The key to healthy relationships sounds so easy, so obvious, but we often make it way too difficult. The relationship between two people intending to get married is no different. Communication is key while dating, when contemplating marriage, and throughout marriage.
As a relationship becomes more serious through engagement, it is the perfect opportunity to recommit to this standard. While hopefully you and your betrothed strove for open communication from the start of your relationship, an engagement provides a fresh new start to forget any failures and refocus. Such an act will not only make for a smooth wedding planning process, but also for a healthy marriage. Remember that open communication will not eliminate disagreements, trials, and struggles, but it will provide the path for you and your love to journey through those hard times — to come out on the other side still together and stronger than ever.
So open communication sounds great, right? But how do you actually achieve it in your relationship?
Start with asking questions. God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. Open up a discussion about marriage with your fiancé before your big day that can continue for the years to come. Listen to his responses and share your own authentic ones. Such questions will help each of you to gain a better understanding of where the other is coming from in reference to marriage, family, and love. Such questions will help you identify areas of potential conflict and to stifle any sparks from the beginning. Such questions will start an ordinary conversation that will encourage an extraordinary marriage.
How was marriage portrayed in your household?
Even if it appears that your in-laws have a strong relationship, you may not be aware of how they truly feel or talk about marriage. They may have raised your fiancé to view marriage very differently than your parents did you. Their words, actions, and mannerisms helped to shape the man he has become and his worldview. Was marriage perceived as a relationship between best friends or a legal accord? Did his parents jokingly complain about marriage or did they set it apart as a holy and sacred union? Was marriage cast in a positive or negative light? Your fiancé is not to blame for how marriage was portrayed in his household — and neither are you for yours — but it is important to recognize what preconceived notions each of you have about matrimony.
What married couple(s) do you admire?
For anyone entering into marriage, they probably had some positive influence or example along the way. With how dismal the statistics are today, every individual entering into this union must have had some couple they looked to for encouragement, to prove that a long, healthy, loving marriage was possible. Who is that couple for your fiancé? What does he admire about their relationship? What about their relationship does he hope to replicate in your marriage? The answers to these questions will say a lot about what your fiancé values in marriage and what he hopes to achieve. Such a couple could not only serve as an admirable example, but could also serve as mentors or counselors for you and your soon-to-be spouse.
Have you observed any unhealthy marriages?
In this day and age, every one knows someone in a broken marriage. These heartbreaking examples are enough to make anyone cynical in regard to what was designed to be a sacred and beautiful union. Just as it is important to identify married couples that you admire, you and your fiancé should also discuss the more negative marriage influences. Has your fiancé observed any marriages that made him question whether or not he was up for the challenge? What did those couples do wrong? How can you learn from their mistakes? Identify areas of potential difficulty and discuss ways to avoid temptation.
What parameters should we set up for our marriage?
Parameters sounds like an awful word — it sounds frustrating and laborious and undesirable. But setting guidelines and drawing lines from the beginning of the marriage will help to avoid future struggles. Decide from the start that your husband should never be alone with women and you should never be alone with men. Set aside Friday nights as date night. Be determined to sleep in the same bed every night, no matter how loud the snores or how heated the argument. Resolve to never let the sun go down on your anger. Establishing such parameters is not an act of distrust or cynicism — it is a wise move that puts value on purity and faithfulness.
What is your love language?
Even if you and your fiancé are the most compatible of all couples, do you really know how to best shower him with love? Every human being feels the most loved in slightly different situations. While you may be blown away when a friend buys you that purse you always wanted or almost break down in tears when your mother writes you a letter of encouragement, your fiancé may not be affected the same way. Maybe he would rather spend time with you alone than go on a fancy date night, or snuggle on the couch instead of write love letters. In his book “The 5 Love Languages,” Gary Chapman outlines the main human expressions of love — words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Do you know your soon-to-be hubby’s love language? Find out!
What is your favorite…?
Ask the silly get-to-know-you questions! While it is important to discuss serious issues like those above, don’t forget to also value more surface-level issues. As you learn more about your fiancé’s deeper thoughts and experiences, also make sure that you know the more everyday things about him. What is his favorite meal? What is his favorite way to relax? What is his favorite way to spend an afternoon? What is his favorite place to get away? What is his favorite shirt? You may have discussed these questions way back when you first started dating, but do you still know the answers? Going into marriage, knowing your future husband’s favorite things will be helpful so you know how to bless him.
Where do you see us 20 years from now?
Will you both hold executive positions at your jobs? Will you have three kids, two dogs, and a minivan? Will you live in the middle of the city or in the middle of nowhere? Talk about your dreams for the future — personally, as a couple, and as a family. Such an exercise will not only give you a common goal to strive for, but also help to identify shared and conflicting visions. Work through any disagreements through honest communication, focus on love, and in 20 years, you will be celebrating a long, healthy, extraordinary marriage!