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While you’re engaged, conversations tend to hover endlessly around the wedding day, and naturally so. Though working out the details and planning your celebration is exciting, having conversations about other topics is important, too. 

You and your fiancé are stepping into something beautiful—a promise of commitment, a proclamation of loving each other now and falling in love over and over again, a 24/7 best friend, and a person who wants to love you at your best and through the worst. You owe it to each other to take the time to appreciate what you have and to continue the pursuit.

One way to pursue each other is to sit down and have important conversations. Continue to learn about each other, find a middle ground for things you may not have the same opinion on, and keep the door open to come back to these conversations down the road. As time goes by, things can change, and so can you. 

5 Conversations Every Engaged Couple Should Have Before They Say, “I Do”

1. Talk about the importance of marriage, what it means to you both and what you hope for it to look like. Being on the same page about why marriage is important to you helps you both take ownership of your relationship and establishes its value. When you take the time to lay out your hopes and expectations, you invite your spouse into the opportunity to make those happen. If you don’t voice what you expect from your future spouse, you’ll set them up for failure and yourself up for disappointment.

2. Do you want children? If one of you does and the other doesn’t, this could be quite an obstacle to get over. It is important not to assume the other’s answer in this particular conversation because it intimately affects what the future looks like. Talking about this as an engaged couple is a really big deal.

3. How do you handle conflict and what rules do you want to establish on how to fight when you do? Conflict is inescapable for any relationship, says Psychologist Dan Wile, but some of the best news is that conflict handled well actually brings you closer instead of pulling you apart. You have to find what works best for you both. For my husband and I, we have two ground rules: 1. No yelling and 2. No cussing at each other. This works for us! If we feel like we are going to start yelling, we call timeout and revisit the conversation after we have had time to process.

With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams. Here are some steps they suggest to handle conflict better.

4. Talk through your finances.  What are your financial goals? Have you talked about a budget and about savings? This topic can take a turn for the worst pretty quickly if you don’t find a middle ground. Here’s some guidance on automating money in your marriage and saving thousands by The Gottman Institute.

5. Intimacy in your relationship—an often underrated conversation. Being intimate isn’t limited to being physical, though that is an important part. In fact, there’s emotional and spiritual intimacy, too. Each of these plays into each other and helps create a deeper bond with your partner because you are learning about them in a way that others may never experience. Spending quality time together is a great way to increase intimacy. Talk about what your dreams are, your spirituality, your feelings and what’s on your heart as well.

Get personal with your sweetheart. Start out your marriage with the muscle memory of talking through tough conversations, how you want to love each other and what’s important to you. The more you communicate, the richer the potential for a lovely life together. Now who’s ready to say I do?

Check out some other great blogs for engaged couples:

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Fighting with your fiancé all the time, aka, the person you are planning on spending forever with, can feel just exhausting. The uncertainty from COVID-19, the potential for rescheduling your wedding, fear of job loss, or navigating unemployment while trying to secure a future together, spending what may feel like too much time together, and so many unknowns right now can definitely stir the dust in the air. Just when you think the dust is going to settle, one of you kicks it back up again! 

I have seen far too many people fall into the trap of marrying a person thinking that they knew them, but in reality, they only knew about them,” says Dr. John Van Epp, relationship expert, and author. 

So, for starters, if you find yourself in constant conflict with your fiancé, what exactly are you fighting about?  

  • Finances around the wedding?
  • When you will actually get married?  
  • What the celebration will look like in the midst of “RONA?”
  • One of you is messy and the other is a neat freak?
  • Your mother?
  • Quarantining during the Pandemic?
  • The dishes in the sink overnight?
  • Money in general?

Fighting about things that matter is one thing, but if you find yourself fighting with your fiancé about Every. Little. Thing, that’s a whole new ballgame. It might be a good time to take inventory of your relationship and see if it’s unhealthy. 

An important thing to consider—if you are fighting about everyday things that you will for sure continue to encounter, and you are thinking that once you marry things will simmer down and those issues won’t be such a big deal or you will be able to “work on your spouse” to get them to change… Do not be fooled. If you see things that you need to work on individually or as a couple, the chances of change happening before the wedding are far greater than after the ring is on your finger

The hopeful news is that conflict is inescapable for any relationship, AND some of the best news is that conflict handled well actually brings you closer instead of pulling you apart. 

You for sure are not alone in this. Psychologist Dan Wile says it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” It’s true.  Every couple has around 10 things they will not necessarily agree on for the duration of their marriage. Despite this, relationship expert Dr. Gottman, who has studied couples for the last 40 years, has found that about ⅓ of conflicts can be resolved with the right approach. Even for those things that you might disagree on for forever, Gottman found that how you approach each other is the key.

Dr. Gottman’s Approach:

  • Step 1: Soften Your Start-Up. Are you beginning the conversation where you left off in your head? When your fiancé gets to your apartment you say, “Why should I ever be ready on time? You’re always late.” They respond with, “I got stuck behind an accident. I’m working on my timing.” Then maybe you go on to say, “It’ll be something else next time.” Soft Start-Ups don’t include the Four Horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling). Instead, you and your partner start the conversation gently and with intentions of understanding each other and coming to a resolution.
  • Step 2: Learn to Send and Receive Repair Attempts. Think of a repair attempt as slamming on the brakes when you see a red light. You do this to avoid a collision that could harm your marriage,” says Kyle Benson from the Gottman Institute. In the example above, acknowledging that your fiancé is working on their time management could have de-escalated the situation. Practicing sending and receiving repair attempts can help improve the quality of your relationship.
  • Step 3: Soothe Yourself and Each Other. If you know you’re too upset to have a conversation at the moment, take a 20-30 minute break and try and “focus on the positives of your relationship by yourself.” When you’re “Flooded, ” as Dr. John Gottman refers to it, your brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for complex problem-solving, to function. As a result, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. Acknowledge what makes you feel flooded, talk about the best way and time to bring up issues to each other, how your partner can soothe you and what signals you can give each other to clue the other into how you’re feeling.
  • Step 4: Compromise. When you negotiate, you accept each other’s imperfections while recognizing your relationship is more important than the argument and being right.
  • Step 5: Address Emotional Injuries. Sometimes how you fight is what hurts more than what you were fighting about. Be open to talking it out and processing what you two went through. Accept responsibility and learn from your fights.

Fighting with your fiancé doesn’t have to be all bad—it can be an area for growth and an opportunity to understand each other’s differences better. A great way to fight for your relationship is by preparing for marriage. Consider premarital education or counseling to set yourselves up with the tools you need to thrive in your relationship.

Some other blogs you might find helpful!

10 RULES TO “FIGHT NICE” WITH YOUR SPOUSE

TOP 10 POTENTIAL MARRIAGE PITFALLS

10 GREAT DATES BEFORE YOU SAY “I DO”

10 RED FLAGS IN A DATING RELATIONSHIP

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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I just want to feel our love—the love we are spending time, energy, and money on celebrating. I miss the lack of urgency in answering questions and exchanging our ideas to spark conversations instead of polite compromises. When I was in the midst of planning my wedding I didn’t prioritize quality time with my fiancé. When we saw each other it was business. We sat in the tension of wanting romance but not knowing how to be both productive and passionate about each other. Learn from my mistake and get you and yours on a date! 

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia did a study on how date nights affect couples. According to the study The Date Night Opportunity by W. Bradford Wilcox and Jeffrey Dew (University of Virginia, 2012):

In these data sets, husbands’ and wives’ reports of couple time were associated with higher relationship quality. For example, Figure 1 shows that husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least once a week were approximately 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages, compared to those who enjoyed less quality time with their spouse.

You are preparing for marriage as you prepare for your wedding. You will be someone’s husband or wife. Take what you see from the research and practice this habit so that it becomes muscle memory for your marriage! Don’t let the quantity of time you’re spending together blur with the meaning of quality time with your fiancé. 

How to Spend Quality Time with Your Fiancé While Planning a Wedding:

  1. Go over both of your schedules together. If you are making time to plan, to grocery shop, or to hang out with friends then you can surely make time to be intentional with your future spouse! Re-allocate your time and try to spend time together at least once a week. P.S. Try your best to refrain from talking about the wedding during this time—unless it’s about how excited you are!
  1. Be intentional with your time. Now that you have carved out some precious time together, don’t waste it! Put up the screens and put in the effort. Talk about how you two can love each other well. If you don’t know what your love language is, take the test and find out. Enjoy falling in love with each other over and over again (as well as learning to love each other better and better.)
  1. Cultivate intimacy. To have intimacy you have to spend quality time together. Communicating your desires, thoughts, feelings, and needs effectively and often are a sure-fire way to keep your connection with each other close. In this same vein, pursue each other. There’s nothing like the feeling of being worth someone’s time and effort. When you pursue your spouse-to-be, you are communicating to them they are valuable and deserving of your love. And for goodness’ sake—kiss! “A daily 6-second kiss will increase your emotional and physical intimacy.” According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding or trust hormone), can improve your mood (for days at a time), and can help you stay calm. To top it off, something as simple as holding hands, hugging, getting close, and yes, making out, can lessen your stress hormones (cortisol) and enrich your sense of relationship satisfaction.

You have your life together ahead of you. Let’s start it out with some healthy habits and making sure your relationship is the priority.

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to get the most quality out of your time set aside for each other, here is a link to date nights that perfectly mix together fun, romance, and facilitate natural connection… Pro-Tip: They’re free! (Which I know is a plus since weddings aren’t always cheap.)

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Prioritizing your marriage over your wedding is a beautiful place to grow from. While the wedding day itself is dreamt of, saved for, and planned out, it can be magical without being financially detrimental. You’ll find you carry over some of the same conversations you had while planning your wedding while having conversations about preparing for marriage. What you two talk about in regard to how to save money for the big day will probably lead you to some great ideas you take with you after the wedding season.

It wouldn’t surprise me if you talked about:

  • Cutting down on how often you eat and drink out
  • Combining subscriptions like Netflix, Spotify or Apple Music
  • Buying some used things instead of buying all new things
  • Setting saving goals
  • Packing your lunch
  • Paying off debt
  • Asking friends and family if they have something you need

Research from the Gottman Institute shows that one of the biggest reasons couples fight is because of money. You can avoid this by getting on the same page and goal-setting together! When the two of you have a conversation about how you spend your money separately and how you can save together, you’ll find that while working as a team, you’re strengthening your relationship. You’ll inevitably align your priorities and practice making important decisions together. It’s a win-win. So let’s get down to business: You want to save money for your wedding, so here are some great ways to do so with a little advice from NerdWallet and my own wedding experience!

Money-Saving Tips for Planning Your Wedding:

  • If you’re expecting to be engaged soon, start saving. If you know the two of you are planning to get married, start saving as soon as possible! My husband and I looked at our monthly income and cost of living and found room where we could save. Some months we saved $500 each, some $300. You have to figure out what works best for you. The best part about starting a few months prior to being engaged is that we could pay for things as we made decisions and we knew we had stability from the get-go.
  • Consider having an intimate wedding! COVID-19 has made guests joining in over Zoom or Facebook Live sexy. All of the money you’ll save on food, beverages, a DJ, venue, extra hours from photographers, the rehearsal dinner with extended family, bridesmaids and groomsmen can go straight into investing in your own marriage! Maybe you can save money based on what you were willing to pay for a bigger wedding and put it away as an emergency or fun fund!
  • Skip the Saturday wedding. Planning your wedding for a Sunday or weekday can save you thousands! (I know from experience—my husband and I saved $1.5k by having a Sunday wedding.)
  • Think outside the box for a venue. Vacation home, if you know someone with property, government-owned historical sites, restaurants, State Parks (so, so cheap), etc.
  • Use the venue’s resources. Using a venue that offers chairs and tables is a huge plus! Ask what’s included.
  • Design and send your own invites. Go paperless for the younger friends! Canva has tons of free designs. The two best pro-tips I can give is to only send formal invites to those you know wouldn’t be as tech-savvy and email the rest. If you do decide to print, here is part 2: use Staples to print. Don’t upload your design as an invitation, but as a postcard! It cost us maybe $48 for 250 “Save the Dates” and postage costs less for postcards as well! We did the same things with our invitations but put them in an envelope and used the back as a place for more information. (P.S. The average cost for stationery/postage items like those listed is over $400… I just told you a way to do both for about $100). My wedding planner book told me to budget $800?!?
  • Buy Wholesale Flowers. You can put arrangements together yourself and save $150 alone on what people charge for making bridal bouquets!
  • Check the sale rack and wedding dress samples first! Your dress won’t be any less beautiful if you get a great deal.
  • Borrow anything you can! Everything from accessories, centerpieces from friends or family members who have gotten married, decorations… anything!
  • Cut down on a store-bought cake. Trust me, you don’t need as much cake as you think. Get a nice personal cake to cut into for you and your spouse and ask some friends and family to make the rest. This worked out beautifully for us.
  • Limit Plus-Ones. If someone isn’t seriously dating, they don’t need one! On the flip side, just because someone is dating, doesn’t mean you need to invite the significant other—especially if you aren’t close to them! If someone is coming from out of town, offering a plus-one to travel with is thoughtful.

Be up front with each other while planning your wedding and figure out what your priorities are. Remember, your wedding day is the beginning, but your marriage is the rest of the story. One of the best reasons to save money on your wedding is so you can invest directly into your marriage! Enjoy this season, but anticipate the sweetness that follows. Being married is just the best!! (I’m biased, but I’d like to think I’m also honest.)

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What people believe about marriage may surprise you.

At the 2019 NARME Summit in Nashville, Dr. Scott Stanley shared what people really think about marriage using the latest marriage and cohabitation research.

If you’ve heard that married couples have a 50% chance of eventually divorcing, did you know that this statistic pertains specifically to Baby Boomers – the most divorcing generation ever in U.S. history? The news is better for those marrying today – their lifetime risk for divorce is only around 38%.

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When asked, “What do couples fight about?” most people usually say money, sex, kids and in-laws straight out of the gates.

In romantic relationships, couples can have all kinds of major and minor disagreements that impact the quality of their relationship. If you’re wondering what the research says about what couples are most likely to fight about, you’ll be interested in the results of a 2019 study by psychologists Guilherme Lopes, Todd Shakelford, David Buss and Mohaned Abed.

They conducted a three-stage study with recently-married heterosexual couples looking at all of their areas of discord, and what they found was pretty interesting. Out of 83 reasons for couple conflict, they found 30 core areas of conflict which they placed into six component groups.

The component groups were:

  1. Inadequate Attention or Affection: This would include things like not showing enough love and affection, lack of communication, one not paying enough attention to the other, not being appreciated and feelings.
  2. Jealousy and Infidelity: This would affected by real or perceived risk to the relationship from things like talking to an ex, possessiveness, past relationships and differing opinions on whose friends couples hang around more.
  3. Chores and Responsibilities: Think about everyday tasks that couples may share. The housekeeping, chores, who does more work, not showing up when expected and sharing responsibilities would fit here.
  4. Sex: One may want sex and the other doesn’t, frequency of sex, sexual acts and telling private information about the relationship to others – and the list goes on.
  5. Control and Dominance: This would refer to events in which one partner tries to manipulate or control the other in some way.
  6. Future Plans and MoneyThings like goals for the future, children and the ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship would fall into this category.

Utilizing these areas of discord, the psychologists created the Reasons for Disagreements in Romantic Relationships Scale (RDRRS).

Key Findings

  • Jealousy and infidelity seemed to decrease after several years of marriage
  • A husband’s higher income contributed to control and dominance issues.
  • Men who were more religious mentioned less disagreement over jealousy and infidelity elements.
  • Relationship satisfaction improved over time even though the frequency of differences did not change significantly during the three years of marriage.
  • Females were less satisfied when there was more disagreement about control and dominance, and as women grew older there was more disagreement about infidelity and jealousy.
  • Women reported that sexual satisfaction was lower when there was greater disagreement about chores and responsibilities.
  • Women were more likely to guess they would have an affair in five years when there was greater disagreement around inadequate attention and affection.

Whether you’re considering marriage, engaged or already married, this information can provide a great foundation for conversation when it comes to potential disagreements in marriage. While there is some relief in knowing that lots of people struggle with the same types of issues, it might be a bit disconcerting to find that the one you love and thought you would be on the same page with about most things doesn’t exactly see things the same way you do. In reality, it is pretty much impossible for two people from two different upbringings to come together and not have any differences of opinion about certain things.

Either way, if you know you have these differences or areas of conflict, it is possible to have constructive conversation to determine how you will navigate dealing with them so your relationship can thrive in the process. How do you do that? Thanks for asking.

Find a time when you both can talk for 30 minutes or so without distraction. Choose one of the topics you differ on and begin sharing. Keep in mind, your best bet is for each of you to seek information and to remain curious. There is no rule that says at the end of 30 minutes you are done with this topic. This is also not a time to try and convince your partner about why they are wrong and should for sure see things your way.

Couples often find that when they seek to understand their partner it begins to make sense why they think the way they think. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. You can still disagree on certain things and have a healthy marriage, but it will require some effort on each person’s part. If you are dating or engaged, you may realize that your differences are significant enough that you need to evaluate whether marrying each other is the best next step. It really boils down to respecting your partner and doing what is in the best interest of your relationship.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 11, 2020.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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