I have a confession to make. As a single, I didn’t prepare well for marriage.
The truth is, I didn’t really prepare at all … that is, not until I started dating my now-husband, Ted. It was then that the possibility of matrimony became a reality and I suddenly recognized the need to ready myself for it.
I wish I would have started sooner.
Because preparation takes time. And while no duration of it would have made me the perfect bride, there were things I could’ve addressed as a single that may have helped me enter marriage as a more thoughtful, easier-to-live-with spouse. The same is true for you.
There are things you can do now as a single to better ready yourself to begin the spousal journey in good shape. So whether the title of “spouse” is in your near future or years away, here are five things you can do to prepare for it.
1. Evaluate your habits.
When Ted and I were newlyweds, there was a particular habit of his that stood out to me … in a good way. He never left the toilet seat up. He defied all of the stereotypical stories of men and bathrooms I’d come to believe were true over the years.
This behavior of his wasn’t something he was taught as a kid, though. Instead, he adopted it in his adult years as he hosted single events at his condo. It was one way he made an effort to be courteous to his female friends. Years later, when we got married, this habit he’d embraced when he was single became a way to show kindness to me, his new wife.
Just like Ted evaluated his toilet seat routine and made a change before marriage, you can do the same with regard to your daily habits. Do you have patterns of behavior that may prove annoying, thoughtless or hurtful to a future spouse? These habits may be related to personal hygiene such as where you leave your dirty laundry, or could pertain to poor time or money management.
If you’re not sure whether a habit may need addressed, ask those closest to you for honest feedback. Choose people who know you and your behaviors well. This may include parents, siblings, roommates, or friends you’ve known for several years. Allow them to be candid without fear that you’ll be offended by their observations.
2. Fine tune your conflict resolution style.
You’re probably familiar with the five conflict resolution styles. If not, an article from the University of Notre Dame identifies them as avoidance, giving in, standing your ground, compromising and collaborating. The healthiest of these being collaboration, or what I label a “team-first fighter” in my book Team Us: Marriage Together.
What does a team-first fighter look like? This individual approaches conflict with an “other-first” mentality. This is evidenced in their desire to understand the other person’s perspective, a relinquishing of the need to be right, less concern for personal reputation, and an extension of grace and understanding.
Although I consider myself a team-first fighter now, this hasn’t always been the case. When I got married, I was a strict conflict avoider. My default was to pretend conflict didn’t exist. What I didn’t realize until after I got married was just how dysfunctional this was. It took several years of marriage for me to learn how to exchange my conflict-avoiding ways for that of collaboration.
Perhaps you’re more balanced than I was. It could be that you’re already a team-first fighter, or you tend to compromise, which means you’re on your way there. But it’s possible that like me, conflict sends you running toward denial at bullet-fast speed. While the bad news is your conflict resolution style is far from healthy, the good news is you can work now to change it.
Your single years are the perfect time to identify how you deal with conflict and determine what, if any, changes need to be made. One way to determine your style is to think about the last two or three times you’ve encountered conflict. Think back to how you responded in each instance and what you could have done differently.
3. Learn to not take yourself too seriously.
Ted’s lighthearted view of himself is one of the top five things that attracted me to him. Even though he had two master’s degrees, had traveled internationally, and was a talented musician, he didn’t take himself too seriously. This man knew how to laugh at himself and have fun in the process.
How about you? If asked, would others say that you take yourself too seriously?
Don’t misunderstand. There’s certainly a place for approaching particular aspects of life with seriousness. At the same time, there’s also something seriously attractive about an individual who can laugh at their mistakes, flaws and shortcomings — a person who can take a risk and fail because he’s learned to laugh it off and try again. Marriage comes with many opportunities to fixate on the negative, but being able to laugh together has been proven to create healthier marriages.
If laughing at yourself and your mistakes is hard for you, it may be time to develop a more lighthearted opinion of yourself. You can start small by learning to react with levity to little frustrations or mistakes. Lock your keys in your car? Instead of growing angry, figure out a way to see the humor in the situation. Or, if you’re like me, and you have trouble properly pronouncing English words, let alone words in other languages, don’t let your mispronunciation fluster you. Instead, figure out how to joke about it. Others know you’re fallible. Recognizing and accepting that can be attractive and liberating.
4. Seek out opportunities to serve.
The best marriages are made up of individuals who sacrificially serve one another; those who, for the sake of their relationship, weigh their spouse’s needs over their own. The problem is servanthood isn’t something that naturally occurs the day you promise, “I do.” Instead, a servant’s heart is cultivated over time. Sometimes lots of time.
But you can begin to develop it now as a single. Start by seeking out opportunities to serve within your community and at your local church. This could be helping elderly neighbors with their grocery shopping, or babysitting at no charge for a single mom. You could volunteer in your church’s children’s ministry, or participate in outreach programs.
Even if it means getting out of bed early on a Saturday or putting in hours after a long day at work, make it a priority to put others’ needs before your own. Make servanthood such a natural part of your life now that service will come more naturally in marriage.
5. Take a friendship inventory.
Chances are, you’re surrounded by some sort of community. These people may include your family, friends, co-workers or classmates. It’s important to surround yourself now with a support system that can encourage and help you later, when you get married. To find out if you have the right kind of friends, do a simple friendship inventory. Ask yourself these three questions:
● Do my friends esteem or value marriage?
● Do my friends view the opposite sex with respect?
● Do they affirm me at any cost, or are they willing to offer me gentle correction?
If your closest friends receive three checkmarks — great! You’re good to go. However, if your friends flunk this inventory, try having a heart-to-heart talk with them. Maybe they don’t realize how they’re coming across. Share how you’d like to see them encourage you in specific areas. They may just rise to the occasion.
Go Ahead … Start Now
You don’t have to wait until you’re in a serious relationship to prepare for marriage. You can start now. I guarantee that your future spouse will appreciate — and benefit from — your efforts. Your intentionality may even be one of the things they find most attractive.
Copyright Ashleigh Slater 2016. All rights reserved.