Practicing Skills You’ll Need in Marriage
You’ve been dating your boyfriend for a year-and-a-half now, an unexpected amount of time in today’s standards for dating. You’re beginning to know now that long-term relationships are complex, ever-evolving opportunities to challenge one another to remain active in your efforts to stay together. While you know the ultimate goal of dating is marriage, you’re being realistic and not relying on that as an expectation of your current relationship. However, you want to be smart and use this connection to prepare yourself and your heart for the commitment of marriage. While the components of a healthy marriage may seem abstract as you’re dating in high school, these specific actions can help you prioritize your relationship and make it last.
Continue or learn to communicate well.
You’ve been taught to be polite to your teachers at school or strangers you meet, but it’s often with those you’re closest to that you slip into unhealthy habits of disrespect or inattentive listening. Most likely, at this point in your relationship things still feel invigorating and new. You feel close and communicate well with your boyfriend. It’s over time that partners become busier, more distracted or simply make fewer efforts to communicate respectfully and openly with one another. But communication is a critical component to a healthy marriage.
Couples must schedule time to check in with each other weekly. This “weekly check-in” may seem less necessary while dating, but in marriage, it will become essential. As work hours become longer and kids enter the picture, having a time to connect with one another will help your relationship thrive, and in some cases, survive. Use this time to coordinate schedules, check in about any issues in the relationship, and take time for each other away from technological distractions (that means no phones or TV in the background).
Set a goal agreement.
While you’re dating, it’s unlikely that you’ll be in a position where you have to share your resources in order to live out your dreams. But goals and expectations are important for your personal and relationship well-being. Talk with your boyfriend about your goals, ideals and concerns. Create individual goals and couple goals. Then come up with a plan that allows you both to pursue those dreams together. Support one another, encourage one another and help reorganize when it looks like things just aren’t going as planned. Certainly, you’ll be relying more on your parents at this point, but you’ll need to learn to work toward something as one unit in a marriage so at the very least, connect with one another with a regular progress report.
Consider making one of your goals a financial goal. One of the most common areas of newlywed conflict is managing a joint budget. Maybe create a joint goal of saving $200 for a weekend camping trip with your friends or work toward individual savings of $50 to splurge on a special gift for yourself. Communicate with one another on how you plan to save this money and the progress you’re making. By forming healthy spending habits and open communication about finances, partners can avoid one of the most common areas of marital conflict and feel closer as equals.
Share responsibility for maintaining intimacy.
Intimacy before and during marriage is exciting. But, sex before marriage can be very damaging. However, the longer you know your boyfriend and the closer you become spiritually, mentally and emotionally, the harder it will be to stay apart physically. You both share the responsibility of maintaining your physical purity. You can’t blame a slip up on your boyfriend, he can’t blame an urge on you and neither of you can blame yourselves for what may develop in the heat of the moment. Intimacy is very important in any relationship (it’s even essential to give your parents a hug every now and then!) But, there are appropriate amounts and types of intimacy in every relationship and it’s easy to push those bounds in a long-term relationship.
Re-evaluate your boundaries constantly. Once you’ve stepped over the boundaries you’ve placed, it’s easy to pass them again and again, so make strong, firm boundaries. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Physical intimacy is rooted in emotional connection. Your partner needs to know that you care for him physically as well as emotionally. This doesn’t mean that you need to jump into bed with him, but it does mean that you need to know the best and worst ways for you to communicate your affection toward him. Many partners take for granted the importance of actively maintaining a sense of emotional connection. This is not the responsibility of one partner, but a requirement of both individuals. Maintain an interest in fostering intimacy and keep tabs on ways your boyfriend wishes to feel loved and cared for (because this will vary from moment to moment and over time).
Human beings like novelty, so be willing to try new things together. Be adventurous in your hang out time so you don’t deceive yourselves into only connecting physically. Take turns planning an exciting evening for each other, and do not get trapped in thinking it has to be extravagant. If your lives are incredibly busy one week, find a time to relax by watching a movie projected on your garage door or try to cook a new meal together. If you’ve both been really bored, then take an art class from your local YMCA or rec center, go ballroom dancing, to the zoo or take up a new outdoor sport. There are a lot of new and invigorating ways to connect and become intimate without having to be physical.
Express yourself and manage your differences.
Ensure that you’re able to tell your boyfriend when you’re upset with him. That way he stands a chance of trying to fix the problem. Without this, resentment takes root and will continue to grow over time until it is addressed. It may sound basic, but it is often difficult for partners to place themselves in a vulnerable position where they can voice their concerns about the person closest to them. For couples to manage resentment, it’s essential that partners create a safe conversational space where each can be heard and listen without feeling defensive or attacked.
It’s inevitable that you’ll have a different perspective than your boyfriend at some point. Use any and every opportunity to practice talking with each other when one partner is upset with the other. Skills such as empathy, active listening and managing anger and frustration can be learned and need to be regularly utilized in couple conversation