Congratulations! If you’re reading this, then you’ve most likely found yourself engaged, or perhaps thinking of taking that next step. Whether you’ve been dating a short time or for years, you have found the person who you want to spend the rest of your life with.
As you’ve gotten to know this person, you have probably learned about what they like, what they hate, what gets them excited and what their passions are. Looking forward, you can’t wait to commit to this person and begin a new life together.
If this sounds familiar, then good. If not, that’s ok, too. It’s all right to have some hesitations and reservations. Whether you’re completely on board or getting yourself mentally ready for the process, there are some things you should probably begin to ask yourself.
Pre-marital counseling is a fantastic realm by which you and your partner can really clarify whether you are on the same page when it comes to major life decisions and values. Pre-engagement counseling is a growing trend that some couples opt for so that they can have the groundwork for marriage completed before making the big public announcement.
I love the intentionality this invokes, setting couples up for success in their relationship at the earliest moments. So whichever camp you may be in, then, here are the Who-What-Where-When-Why’s to consider before you even begin so you can make the most of your time!
Who am I marrying?
Now this one may seem pretty obvious on the surface level, but it is good to consider who you are marrying. Ask yourself the question, “Who are they?” However, the emphasis in this question is not the “WHO,” but the “ARE.” For your partner, what does it mean to actually be that person? What is important to them? What are their quirks? What do you like about them? What do you not like about them? Are you hoping that will change?
If you dig deep into this, you will begin to uncover two things: 1. Securities and 2. Insecurities. Some things, probably most things, you like about your partner and will make you feel secure in this relationship. These are the qualities you can respond to when somebody asks you, “why do you love him/her?”
Maybe these are personality traits, skills, or history and knowledge they bring to the relationship. In what ways are you similar and see a synergy in the relationship? In what ways do you differ, creating a well-balanced union?
The flip side to think about, then, is a little scarier. Are there red flags, big or small, that you have about your partner? These would be the insecurities. What things come up that you want to be able to talk to them about, but you haven’t felt comfortable to do so?
Often for many couples, sexual history can be a big insecurity if your relationships with past partners haven’t been talked about or only just touched on. If one partner has had more previous sexual partners than the other, especially if the other hasn’t had any prior, this can become a point of contention down the road.
Further, this is broader than just intercourse, extending to intimate actions in general. I’m not suggesting you necessarily need to go through all the details of past encounters, but at least talk through how the knowledge of your partner’s past makes you feel. If you don’t think you have a complete picture, this is something that is necessary to talk over, since someday, inevitably, it will come out.
Another area to consider when thinking through who you are marrying is who they are spiritually. Do you have the same beliefs on all issues? Are there differences? How did your partner come to believe what they do? Think about how they experience their faith. Is it an emotional experience or intellectual peace?
For many couples, there exists an assumption that they are on the same page about faith and values. However, without having the explicit conversation around what they believe, it’s hard to know for sure, and those assumptions can cause big problems down the road.
Finally, take all these thoughts on who you are marrying and turn them inward. Can you answer them all about yourself? Take some time to think through what is important to you, who you are, and ask if you are known.
What does marriage mean to me?
The next major question to ask yourself before coming into marriage counseling is this: what does marriage mean to you? Usually, our perception of marriage seems obvious to ourselves but can be different from the people around us. For you, is marriage a permanent commitment, or are there things that warrant a divorce? If so what are those things?
Admittedly, these are not the “fun” questions to ask yourself about marriage, but it is important to do so. Once married, how will the holidays be divided between your families? How do you envision the division of household chores?
Chances are you have an idea of what marriage will actually look like once you’re there. If you’re living together already, what does it mean to have this commitment now? If you’re not, how will you manage the merging of households and routines?
Consider what marriage means to you and do it from a variety of angles. Spiritually? Physically? Emotionally? Practically? Once you have an idea of what it means, are there any obstacles you perceive in getting you to the place you want to be? Bring those obstacles up with your partner.
Talk about how you see those obstacles entering your relationship and how you can address them. You might find that your partner, for better or worse, does not see those things as obstacles and could even have some great solutions for them already!
Where do I see us in 5, 10, 50 years?
After asking what marriage means, it will be good to consider the future in light of your answers. Ask yourself, where you see the marriage in 5, 10, 50 years? Are kids in the future? How many? Do you want to adopt? What are your and your partner’s educational and vocational aspirations? Do you want to travel the world or settle down?
Is where you’re living now where you’ll want to live in the future? When working with couples in marriage counseling, one thing I often hear is “we grew apart,” and I often wonder how much they talked about where they were going before they got there. Desires and interests change, but at least at the start, it is good to be on the same page about what you’re both trying to achieve as individuals.
Also, what are your goals to accomplish together over the years as well? Are there things you enjoy doing together now? How will you remember to make time to do those things when the storms of work, child raising, and life interfere with all your good intentions?
When thinking through these goals for yourself, and for your relationship, consider the things that might be obstacles to getting there. How can your partner help you there? Are they willing to help you accomplish your goals? In what areas is compromise necessary? What things will you have to sacrifice to get to where you want to go down the road?
Further, what friendships will you need to either lean into or break away from to help you and your partner succeed? Thinking about the future causes us to make hard decisions in the present and this allows for relationships to grow and strengthen together instead of growing apart.
When are we getting married?
Before you can begin the journey together, you’ve got to actually get married. Especially for couples considering pre-engagement counseling, having a sense of timeframe can be helpful before committing to an engagement. Beyond just deciding to have an outdoor spring wedding vs. a snowy cabin in the mountains, what season of life is your wedding falling in?
Perhaps there are individual goals you would like to accomplish prior to getting married, such as completing a degree or an overseas stint for a job. Talk to your partner about these sorts of things and how you can accomplish what you need to first.
Are finances a barrier to the when? How long will that barrier be there, and is it worth considering a cheaper option for the wedding so as not to create an extended engagement that causes tension in your relationship?
Once again, talk to your partner about the differing values you may have about the timeline of engagement. Is it a long process to further get to know each other before fully committing? Or is engagement merely the time it takes you to plan and schedule an event?
There is no right or wrong answer to these questions around engagement length, but it is important that you are open with your partner one way or another to help prevent you from feeling either rushed into it or have it feel like a tortuously long process.
Why are we getting married?
Finally, ask yourself this: why are we getting married? Also, why am I getting married? Look at the relationships in your life that you see. You probably have examples of good and bad ones, and you probably are pursuing the former. Take inventory of what is working for them and talk to them about how married life has been.
Is that what you want and what you are looking for? If so, then fantastic. If not, decide what you are looking for and ask yourself if that will be found in marriage to this partner.
Many factors can contribute to the “why” of getting married. As a culture, this question is probably asked now more than ever, and many have decided that it simply isn’t worth it. Why, then, is it worth it for you? Why now as opposed to waiting a few more months or year? Are there religious factors?
Do social or familial pressures make you want to get married sooner or later? More than just merging two lives, marriage is the connection of two families. Your family skeletons will become your partners and vice versa, and is that fact something you’re ready to handle together?
A lot of these questions sound accusatory or like they imply there are bad answers to them, but I want to assure you that is not the case. When coming into premarital counseling, my goal is to help you to create security and hope in the future of your relationship.
If somebody were to ask you questions that cause doubt, that is okay at this point. Ask those questions before somebody else does and you’ll be able to answer them more confidently, and your affection for your partner will only grow as well.
Know why you love them and why you want to marry them, and that security will buffer any argument or bad interaction you have down the road. Further, don’t feel bad if you struggle to answer some of these questions now.
Part of premarital counseling is the making overt the covert, bringing out the unsaid. By doing so, you’ll be able to examine what potential issues may arise over time and deal with them ahead of time while in a calm and hopeful state of mind.
Who, what, where, when, why – now what?
So now that you’ve examined these questions and you still want to marry the person, the next steps involve finding a premarital counselor, be that me, or any other counselor or clergy, and then really diving deep into these questions with each other.
Once you know how you would answer them, you can ask them to each other and talk through where your differences and similarities are, and how they build off or stick for each other. Premarital counseling and pre-engagement counseling are fun experiences where you can, in just a couple months, really solidify your relationship and build good habits that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
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