The last few weeks I’ve received three emails from girls asking what books I recommend for engaged couples. I sent them each a long list (there are just so many good ones!) but it got me thinking about our engagement and how it prepared us for the marriage Josh and I have today.
Our partnership is in no way perfect. When we fight, we fight hard and we have times when we can’t seem to agree about anything (how to load the dishwasher coming in as #1 on the list, with how to fry an egg as #2). But there were certain questions we answered in engagement that have built a foundation of love. This keeps us coming back together even after our biggest fights. And while our marriage is still young, I think having these answers will prove foundational to our happiness for years to come.
1. Do we have the same values?
I shared this in my guest post over at Digital Romance. Every decision we make as individuals flows from the values we hold. So if two people don’t share the same values, they will have a very difficult time reaching mutual decisions about anything.
This is why Paul was adamant that Christian women and Christian men seek spouses who share their faith:
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” (1 Cor. 6:14-15)
And by ‘sharing the faith’, I don’t mean a prospective spouse believes Jesus is God and goes to church on Easter and Christmas. Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19)! No, sharing in your faith means this person is more dedicated to Christ than he is to you. He (or she) is more concerned with living a righteous and holy life than impressing you. He is God-centric.
When two God-centric people come together, they share personal values. From those values flow their vision for all of life.
2. Do we have the same vision for finances, children, lifestyle, hobbies, time management, and faith?
It is possible to have the same values but not have the same vision. Our vision for finances, children, and lifestyle are based partially on our values but also on our experiences. Our families, churches, financial background, and careers all influence our vision for the future: what we picture for our own families and homes.
Because of this, all of these topics must be discussed during engagement (if not before!). Some of it will come out in premarital counseling – which I highly recommend – but some of it will have to be intentionally brought to the surface by asking the hard questions and working through areas of discrepancy between two unique visions.
Josh and I come from similar educational and church backgrounds. We were both homeschooled and come from charismatic churches. Our financial upbringing was similar, though our hobbies and interests were unique. But while I loved my homeschool experience, Josh did not feel his was as positive. We had to discuss what homeschooling would look like for our children before we came to the mutual decision that this would be our educational path.
Finances are a big deal as well (the primary reason for divorce). For this reason we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course while we were dating. During the course we discussed what we were willing to do without in order to pay off Josh’s student loans as soon as possible. Because we discussed our differences, met in the middle and created a vision, we paid off $30,000 in 15 months (this post tells you how we did it).
Whatever the point of difference, a mutual vision is essential to the peace of your future marriage. You will still have issues to work through when you’re married. There will still be conflict. But laying the foundation now will create a place of peace from which to begin.
3. Do we have realistic expectations for what marriage will look like?
One of the reasons I stopped reading courtship/dating books and Christian romance in high school is because these books were causing two problems: an discontented focus on a relationship I didn’t have, and unrealistic expectations for what real marriage looks like.
My guess is that much of the conflict we see in marriages today is based on disappointed expectations. Most of the fights Josh and I have had were centered around this issue! One of us expects the evening to go a certain way; when it doesn’t, we get sad, angry, or disappointed, which in turn aggravates our spouse.
Thus we have a mantra: “You can’t expect me to build your dreams if you won’t share the blueprint.”
If you refuse to share the blueprint, discuss it, and come to a realistic vision together, you can’t complain when your dreams don’t come true. It’s not fair to the other person. It’s not their job to read your mind.
So what are your expectations for marriage? How do you see yourself in your future marriage? How do you see your husband? These things need to be discussed. This usually brings up the topic of marital roles: who will do the cooking? Who will stay home once the babies come? Who will deal with the budget?
They are things that don’t often come to mind until they are right there under your nose, at which point conflict is much more likely. While conflict can’t always be avoided, it can be helped when you have established realistic expectations prior to entering marriage.
(This is also important concerning sex. The book Intended for Pleasure is an excellent resource for engaged couples to spur this discussion; we even brought it on our honeymoon).
4. Have we been completely honest about our respective pasts and struggles?
I’ve often been asked when is the best time to discuss sexual history with a dating partner. The truth is that this will vary from couple to couple. Josh and I discussed this very early in our relationship, which proved damaging in the long term. But for many, waiting until engagement to discuss this is far too late.
When you prayerfully decide the date of discussion, it is essential that you both be painfully honest. Withholding information about your sexual history will only cause a breach of trust down the road, and trust is the foundation of love.
Now with this, I have a warning for the girls: while it may be tempting to ask the details of a man’s history with certain girls – what exactly he did, what she looked like, even looking up the girls on Facebook – don’t go there. The point of this discussion is to be honest about the past so you can proceed forward in freedom. Asking for unnecessary details will not help you walk in freedom. It will bind you to doubt, insecurity, and unhappiness. Resist the temptation to know more than you need to.
Once you’ve had this discussion, there is a lot of room for disappointment. My post “Overcoming Your Partner’s Sexual Past” discusses how to get past these feelings. It may not happen in a day; it may take time. But if you are committed to trusting this person with the rest of your life, you must commit to overcoming their past just as God did.
5. Are we expecting the other person to be the source of our future happiness?
Here’s the truth, girls: no man, no husband, can ever make you completely happy. There will be moments you feel like he is your knight in shining armor; and there will be moments you feel like he’s a regular villain! But these are moments: they aren’t the goal of your marriage, they are just parts that make it up.
While your future marriage will make you happy many, many days, your happiness is not the purpose of marriage. Marriage is a training ground for selflessness; it is a reflection of love-bound unity; it is the security of your children, and it is another means for you to reflect God’s glory into a fallen world.
If your marriage is dependent on your personal happiness, any bad day will have you questioning that commitment. But if your marriage is founded on a selfless commitment to make the other person happy because a servant’s heart brings glory to God (Prov. 29:23), you will continue to pursue and protect your marriage no matter what.
Josh hurts me sometimes. And other times, I hurt him. We aren’t immune to the cruelty of the other’s sinful nature, but we must choose to look past it for the sake of our commitment. There are days I want to scream, stomp and slam doors, or maybe drive away in the car and stress shop with the best of them. There are moments when he wants to hide in his office to avoid the conflict and drown out my complaints in his headphones.
And in those moments we have to choose: commitment or compromise? Stronger or weaker? Closer or further apart?
We don’t just do it for us. We do it for our children. The very best thing you can do for your children is protect your marriage first. It teaches them what love, commitment, and faithfulness looks like. It shows them that God’s design truly is the best. It teaches them what godly relationships look like. And if you wait until your spouse ‘fixes the problem’ – it won’t happen. Both the husband and the wife are to take personal responsibility for their part in the marriage. And it’s not 50/50 – it’s 100/100. True love is giving your all with no promise of return. True love is a risk. True love is dangerous. And that’s why the world can only offer a cheapened, fake version that rarely lasts.
So you’re getting married: congratulations! This is truly a happy time and you have many happy times ahead of you. But as I’ve said many times on this blog: the fairy tale doesn’t just happen.
The fairy tale is something you fight for.
So ask the questions now, and build a foundation that will last.
Recommended Reading for Dating/Engaged Couples:
- Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
- The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace
- Beautiful in God’s Eyes by Elizabeth George
- Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
- Love and Respect by Emmerson Eggerich
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman