It’s that time of year … when the world falls in love. According to some sources, December is the most popular month of the year to get engaged.
I remember a funny conversation I had with my dentist a short time after I got engaged (not in December). When he learned we were having a short engagement, he said, “Good! Engagement is like purgatory — a place of extreme suffering until you get married.”
I understood what he meant. Kevin and I were already thinking ahead to our life together, but we were not yet living our lives together. We were in the mindset of unity, but full unity would not come until our wedding day.
And yet, those three months were foundational in some ways to the success of our marital relationship. Our actions and interactions during that season were setting the tone for a lifelong relationship. Like training for a marathon, running through the paces of communication, connection and service were preparing us for life as newlyweds.
Here are four ways to nurture your relationship while you’re engaged.
Work toward interdependence, not independence.
I’ve heard single women say that they worry about losing their independence when they marry. We live in a culture that values independence. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 30, so I’d been doing things on my own for a long time. Kevin and I had some shared interests, but there were also some separate pursuits. I was part of an improv troupe and he liked to go hunting. I was active on social media while he checked Facebook once a week.
Oneness in marriage is an emphasis in Scripture. It’s right there in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This kind of unity can be challenging in marriage. Especially when trials come. If you are engaged, work toward unity now.
For Kevin and me, investing in shared interests during engagement — chatting over a good cup of coffee, doing children’s ministry together and spending time with our small group — fostered unity and connection. Our independent interests could (and would) resurface later, but we were able to build a foundation for our future interdependence by focusing on what connected us.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
We’ve all heard about the importance of communication in marriage. Well, engagement is the time to figure out how you each communicate. Be intentional about making time to talk. These don’t have to be hours-long chat sessions, but they should go deeper than surface level. What are his views on children and parenting? What would she like to be doing in 10 years? What does he prefer to do with an extra $100?
Asking questions is not the only way to find out new things about your future spouse. Wedding planning offers ample opportunity for communication, problem-solving and compromise. Like many couples, Kevin and I had a few fights while making decisions about our upcoming wedding (one of our finest after attempting to set up a gift registry together). However, these discussions allowed us to practice conflict resolution (and be successful!) before we said “I do.”
Practice being a safe person.
There is a good chance that if you are engaged, you consider your future mate to be a safe person. (If you have concerns, read this article series on red flags in relationships.) What I mean by that is you trust that he or she loves the Lord, has your best interest in mind, will keep confidences, and will have your back.
Going back to the first point, being “one” requires that you have a foundation of love and respect for one another. Your future spouse should be a person you can open up to and trust with your struggles without fear of judgment or condemnation. Likewise, you should be that kind of person for him or her.
In his article, “Cuts Like a Knife” about marital abuse, Dr. Steve Wilke says:
“Let’s start with a definition I have used for years in our outpatient counseling clinic: Abuse is defined as, “Any non-nurturing behavior.” […] With respect to marriage, which is and should be the most special of our interpersonal relationships, this standard should reign high on our values and certainly in sacred marriage contexts.”
Starting with engagement, practice being a safe person for your future spouse. Nurture him or her through kindness, generosity, empathy and using good words (Ephesians 4:29). In marriage, it will be critical that you have each other’s backs. From that place of strength you can be a powerful team for God’s Kingdom work.
Learn to love together.
Chances are, you love each other if you are engaged. But engagement is the perfect time to learn to love and serve others together. One obvious place to start is with each other’s families. Kevin and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with our individual families before we were wed. As we got to know and love each other’s parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, we gained a deeper connection with one another. I’m not saying every interaction was perfect or easy, but there was excitement, knowing God was calling us to love our families as a team.
We also did some babysitting while we were engaged. We looked for couples who could use a date night or a break. As we reached out to and served others together, we got a taste of ways God might use us as a unit.
Getting engaged, while fun and exciting, is also a great time to test the waters of unity and set a foundation for your future marriage. God is calling you to be a team. So use engagement as a time to grow in connection, communication and love.
Copyright 2018 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.