Engagement is filled with decisions and conversations about the wedding day. Preparing for the wedding is necessary and important, but the process of engagement is also a crucial opportunity to prepare your relationship for long term commitment. We’ve teamed up with Blair Anne Hensen with Open Routes Counseling to share 10 tips on how to prepare your relationship for the long haul!
Blair says, “It may not be nearly as fun to learn communication skills as it is choosing your honeymoon location, cake flavor, or set list, but what if the long-term success of your relationship depends on it? According to Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher on relationships, couples usually wait to work on their relationship after six years of being unhappy. Six years of resentment and pain are difficult to work through, and mid-way through the repair process my clients often express: I wish we knew these skills when we got married. Set aside intentional time, by yourselves, with a therapist, and/or a book to create the relationship you want together.”
Here is a list of guidelines to get you and your partner started started:
1) Accept each other as they are, quirks, mess, and all!
Accepting each other is such an important part of starting your relationship out strong. If there are hidden expectations or desires about changes you want to see in your partner that will only add stress and pressure to the relationship.
2) Create a shared vision for your relationship!
What makes your relationship uniquely yours? Sitting down to discuss what you both envision your marriage looking like helps make sure you are both on the same page. Writing down your vision, mission, and core principles can organize your discussion. An example of a principle is: we put each other first, especially when one of us is upset. More on this process can be found in Dr. Stan Tatkin’s book We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love.
3) Keep learning and adventuring together!
Finding ways to add variety in your relationship. Learning new things together builds resilience and protects the relationship from boredom.
4) Talk about the hard stuff!
Can you talk about sex, money, expectations, your differences, etc. in a way that supports each other with care? Use empathy and validation to show mutual understanding. Empathy and validation expressions look like: I understand what you’re saying, and it makes sense that you feel sad [emotion] when I came home from work later than I told you I would [action, words, etc. that created the emotion.]
5) Own what makes you a difficult partner!
We are all hard to partner with in some way. Take time to reflect on your behaviors that may be difficult for your partner. Do you tend to withdrawal when your partner wants to talk? Do you have a hard time letting things go? The better you know yourself, the better you will be at communicating and taking responsibility for your emotions, actions and words. Keep being a learner about yourself and continue to work on and grow yourself in your relationship.
6) Protect each other and the relationship!
Think of your relationship as a team, managing threats and risks together. What kinds of safety systems do you want in place to support each other? How do you want to navigate stressors such as extended family, work, children to make sure they do not pull on the strength of your relationship?
7) Co-manage distress!
When we commit to a long-term relationship with someone our nervous systems start to “wire and fire together.” This means your emotional states will impact each other. Learning how to care and nurture each other’s distress effectively allows you to move through conflict quickly. We all have different needs for soothing, finding what works for your partner so you can be a comfort in difficult times.
8) Make rituals a daily habit!
How do you greet each other when you get home? How do you tuck each other in at night? Do you connect during the day? Do you surprise each other with notes, kind words, little gifts? Keep your romance alive with rituals that show each other care every day.
9) Collaboration over compromise!
Make sure all your decisions benefit both of you. Compromise is not helpful if one of you feels slighted and resentment creates long-term effects on a relationship. Collaboration over compromise, so that when you make decisions both of you leave feeling like it is a good deal for both of you.
10) Don’t let conflicts fester!
Repair conflicts quickly and with care. Don’t let distress linger. Take accountability for the hurt you cause, even when you did not intend to hurt each other. Intentions don’t matter if our partners are in pain. Take accountability for your actions and words, and how they impacted your spouse. Get to know their experience and be with them in it with empathy, validation, and accountability.
Bonus tip: Stay Curious. Your brains will automate each other over time, and that is where assumptions can create misunderstandings. Always stay curious about who you are both becoming. Relationships can be incredible supports for growth and personal well-being. Keep learning about each other and supporting who your partner wants to become.
It may be hard to imagine working on your relationship before things get hard, but research and couples down the road report investing in your relationship now gives you the flexibility and skills to navigate life together—joy, challenges and all.
Blair Anne Hensen is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Bozeman, Montana. She works as a counselor in private practice and runs outdoor wilderness workshops for couples, families and groups with Open Routes Adventures.
Blair specializes in relationship building by helping couples reduce reactivity, increase inner awareness of thoughts and emotions, and improve connection.
We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love by Dr. Stan Tatkin
Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships by Dr. Sue Johnson
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by Dr. John Gottman