The first week or two after my wife and I got engaged were way more exciting and fun than we expected. Announcing the big news to our friends and extended family was a treat. We paraded around town like we were king and queen. But it didn’t last. By the end of the month we were back in ‘the routine’ again and the only difference was that she had a ring on her finger and a bunch of stuff to plan.  Neither of us really knew how the excitement slipped away and we both regretted not being more intentional with our time.

We were not the only ones. Friends told us similar stories of bickering, stress, and tension that characterized their engagements too. As strange as it may sound, the engagement period can often be one of the more stressful, frustrating, and emotional periods of the entire relationship.

Even though it can be a difficult time – it doesn’t have to be.

Most engagements last around six months to a year. Anything shorter than six months starts to feel rushed and anything longer than a year feels excessive. Of course there are exceptions, but generally an engagement is supposed to be a short period of time. Even though it’s short, there is plenty of time to miss the forest for the trees and get wrapped up in the stress of it all.

Engagement is, indeed, a time of preparation. But the couple must remember that it is not just a time to prepare for a wedding; it’s a time to prepare for marriage as well.

Preparing for a Wedding:

  • Plan together:  Whether picking out a cake or deciding on the location of the reception, the couple needs to make decisions about the wedding together. Men, you need to have an opinion. Even if you don’t care what color the table runners should be, have an opinion. When you don’t you communicate to your fiance that her plans are trivial and unimportant. Bad idea.
    • At the same time, women, make sure that you don’t exasperate the man by filling up every waking moment of your time together pummeling him with questions about what types of cheese to serve at the reception.
    • Both the man and the woman should remember that they are on the same team and find ways for the wedding planning to be more of an opportunity to serve each other than gripe about the other person’s preferences. It’s strange that a couple so madly in love would struggle with such things, but it’s true. It’s the first test of every marriage.
  • Don’t Forget to Plan Your Honeymoon:  With the economy being what it is, many couples may elect to not go on a honeymoon because the wedding itself is already so expensive (or because their employer won’t let them off work). Honeymoons don’t have to be lavish and they don’t have to be long – but they need to happen. Do not forego this important part of a marriage. Take at least three nights away somewhere and start your marriage off right. No distractions – just each other. There will be plenty of time to work and stress out about money. You only get to go on a honeymoon once in your lifetime. Don’t miss it!
  • Pace yourself: Don’t try to plan the entire wedding in a month. Sit down together and have goals that you want to have accomplished by certain times. Try to plan out your planning “dates” well in advance so you can be prepared for them. If you try to attack the planning every day in your already limited amount of free time, the planning will quickly become a burden.
  • Honor your friends and your family:  One of the most significant things a couple will do is invite their friends and family to participate in the wedding alongside them. Both the man and the woman should look at this opportunity as a chance to communicate honor and value to the people they ask to participate in the wedding. So, when the woman asks her best friend to be her maid of honor, she shouldn’t just ask her to be the maid-of-honor, she should also tell her why. Rare are the occasions we have in life to publicly honor our friends and family like we can do at a wedding.

Preparing for Marriage:

  • Premarital Counseling:  Contrary to popular belief, premarital counseling does very little to prepare you for marriage. Preparing for marriage is something that is done during engagement and well on past the wedding itself. Marriages are always a work in progress, so both men and women should not make the mistake of thinking that after attending premarital counseling they will be “ready” to get married. Nothing could be further from the truth!
    • Instead, they should look at premarital counseling as an intentional concise time of making sure they are on the same page. It’s a chance to take a hard look at the relationship and make sure both the man and the woman understand the commitment they are about to make to each other. It is an essential step towards marriage – it just shouldn’t be thought of as a magical guarantee of marital bliss. Generally, I recommend at least 6 sessions of premarital counseling before the ceremony (and then 1-2 a few months after the wedding).
  • Continue to Date:  The premarital counseling sessions ought to give the couple plenty to think about and discuss together. These topics can be invigorating for a relationship and even be a little romantic as well. I still remember my wife and I taking our premarital counseling assignments along with us on our dates (or planning our dates around our assignments) and that made them feel so much more intentional and, strangely, romantic. But the dates don’t have to be about premarital counseling assignments. They should be opportunities for the guy to continue to demonstrate to the woman his devotion and affection for her – even though he has already “won” her over.
  • Get to know your future family: Depending upon how far away the man or the woman lives from his or her future in-laws, this might not be easily applicable. However, if it is, then each person in the relationship should spend some extended time getting to know the other person’s immediate family. Visit and participate in as many family gatherings as possible because the saying is right:  “You’re not just marrying a person, you’re marrying a family.”
  • Agree on a Budget:  This is a very important step – especially if the couple is going to have a tight cash flow. Misconceptions and misunderstandings in this area can disrupt the laying of a solid foundation the first few years of marriage. Engaged couples would be wise to plan the budget and begin living according to it even before the wedding day (especially if a significant standard of living adjustment will be needed for the man or the woman).
  • Read together:  Reading together as a couple is actually a great idea any time over the course of a marriage, but it is a particularly good idea for the engaged couple. Undoubtedly, the couple will receive recommendations for books to read while they are engaged. Instead of reading the books separately, it can do wonders for conversation and understanding for the couple to read a book together (even reading out loud to one another).
  • Form relationships with other couples:  Since most newlyweds don’t know what marriage is supposed to look like, it would be a great idea for the couple to surround themselves with people who do. It would be especially good for them to surround themselves with couples whose marriages they admire and aspire to be like. Hopefully these couples can be a resource through the ups and downs of the first few years of marriage.

A good way to summarize each of these points into one basic piece of advice? Ask for help. Ask for help in preparing for your wedding. Don’t feel like you have to assemble all of the invitations all by yourselves; ask for help. Instead of figuring out how to communicate through trial and error; ask for help. Instead of blowing up at your parents because they are nagging you about details of the wedding; ask for help.

My wife and I still wish we would have done more of these types of things while we were engaged. We both viewed our engagement as something to be endured. We just wanted it to be over. We just wanted to skip ahead and be married. I guess we thought once we were married all the opportunities for stress, tension and frustration would go away. If only we knew then what we know now…

…we would have treasured it instead.

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I’m not sure how many married people are reading this blook or not, but if you are, would you mind sharing your suggestions on how not to waste your engagement?