People laugh when he tells them, but the anxiety my husband felt the night he proposed to me, lying awake in my parents basement and wondering, What exactly did we just commit to? was genuine. With a ring on my finger after only a year of friendship that included eight months of dating, our relationship was graced with so many moments of clarity, wonder, and certainty from the Holy Spirit prior to our engagement. There was zero doubt in our minds that our lives’ vocations were to lead each other to heaven in marriage. But simply because such little time had passed, so much of who we were remained a mystery to one another.
We knew each other’s lives and stories in broad strokes, but not all of the more subtle memories and experiences that naturally come to light over a longer period of friendship. We’d watched an episode of The Office on one of our first dates, where I’d tried to minimize my laughter during the more inappropriate moments (if I’d been brave enough to glance over, I would've seen him doing the same thing). So far, we’d pretty much kept all potentially embarrassing bodily functions to ourselves. The questions hung in the air, circling through my husband’s mind that night--an instance he recognizes in hindsight as a spiritual attack: how deeply did we really know each other? Enough to promise and step forward toward a real life together? When would it be okay to reveal our less polite weaknesses and, moreover, our deepest faults?
Regardless of whether your fiancé is someone you’ve known for years or if, like me, you’ve only been in each other’s lives for a short time, these questions of knowledge and emotional intimacy might have arisen in your own heart. As you navigate the first weeks and months of engagement and their accompanying sense of gravity and deeper permanence in your relationship (particularly if you’ve chosen to have a betrothal ceremony), you might notice there’s a real, yet undefinable difference between dating and engagement that goes beyond just wedding plans. To the surprise of this girl who loves the challenge of finding the right word for the right moment and right feeling, I wished so often to be able to easily identify what set our engagement apart into a simple word or two, yet it wasn’t so easy to do that.
In turn, I encourage you not to rush to name or identify exactly what that difference is in your own relationship. Instead, press into total trust and surrender in the Father’s will for the two of you, at this particular time. But, knowing something new about your relationship is distinct from knowing something new about the man you’ll marry. These months of preparation, with their inherent nature of more time spent together, increased decision-making, and formal marriage prep, are a time of deeper self-knowledge and self-revelation. Here, a few points to consider in letting your emotional intimacy develop naturally as you and your beloved prepare to approach the altar.
Even on your busiest days, spend time in quality conversation.
Engaged couples are frequently advised to keep their marriage in mind, not just their wedding days. I encourage you to take this wisdom a step further: rather than solely looking to the future, be mindful of a sense of presence in your right-now, particularly in your everyday conversation. Discovering something new about a loved one is one of the human heart’s greatest delights. Set apart periodic dates to take the night off from wedding talk, challenge each other to tell a story the other has never heard before, or flip through a question and answer book like 101 Conversation Starters for Couples by Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages.
Be at peace with topics you don’t see eye-to-eye on.
I vividly remember one late-night trip from my parents’ house back to my apartment in another city, the whole drive of which my husband and I spent on the phone, arguing about capitalism. Spirited debates like this one, involving some degree of passion and obstinacy but that don’t flip your world on its axis, don’t mean you’re incompatible, just that you are, in fact, two unique persons with distinctive viewpoints. As for issues that do directly affect your relationship and life together--for me, the avenue my husband and I will choose for our children’s education comes to mind--know that it’s alright to table certain topics until they’re more relevant to the season you’re in. And, perhaps like me, you’ll be surprised to find down the road that viewpoints the two of you previously differed on might have become more similar with time.
Be prudent, yet vulnerable, in revealing more of yourselves.
Part of what makes love so intoxicating is the joy of being seen, known, understood. It’s natural that as you and your beloved draw closer to the sacrament of marriage, the desire to know and be known only increases. While it’s important to share things like long-time sins or other concerns that could affect your marriage in a healthy way--i.e. in a way that isn’t done simply for the sake of growing closer, but for the sake of honesty, accountability, and calling one another on--it’s equally important to trust in your spouse-to-be’s love for you. Imperfection is our reality, but with God’s help, total forgiveness, acceptance, and encouragement are possible. Self-revelatory conversations like these often come up naturally, but if there’s a particular issue one of you intentionally desires to keep hidden, a deeper wound might need addressing. Seek pastoral or professional help in bringing up this matter with your intended. Admitting your weakness is so scary, but strengthens your marriage even before it starts. On that note…
Consider counseling or therapy as a supplement to your marriage prep.
If, in your past, one or both of you has experienced issues like abuse, mental health troubles, addictions, or destructive behavior, rest in knowing the Father’s mercy and healing never, ever run dry, even when healing is painful. Issues like these can greatly benefit from therapy or counseling as you prepare for marriage; find Associate Editor Christina Dehan Jaloway’s advice on and experience with pre-marital counseling here.
Above all else as your emotional bond deepens during engagement, remember that regardless of how well you know the smallest details and intricacies of your beloved, love remains a choice. During our marriage prep, our mentor couple told my husband and I that it’s impossible to ever fully know another person’s soul. They’re right, and that’s not a bad thing! What a gift we’re given in marriage to continually glimpse the reality of another, as he is, more fully, and to accept God’s invitation to love as he does.
Images by Red Fern Photography.