This is a reader question posted a bit ago. Thanks so much for your patience in waiting for a reply!
"I am currently dating a fantastic guy. We know we both want to marry each other in the relatively near future. We have talked about how we need to be more intentional in growing our relationship as we move toward marriage. Between now and marriage, we want to keep taking steps to build the foundation of a strong, Godly relationship. What would you suggest we do NOW to prepare for the FUTURE?"
That's a tall order! I think the key is to establish healthy patterns of communication, conflict resolution, honesty, love, and respect now while dating. It's then much easier to transition into marriage, and often the deeper issues marriage brings, with good habits already in place. Marriage books, married friends, parents, counselors, pastors, and mentors are all good resources to help with establishing a healthy dating relationship.
You also need to have some blunt conversations about things like....
Money - Money is huge. Christians often tend to marginalize the importance of money and thus are unprepared for merging not only finances, but debt, spending habits, saving habits, insurance, 401K's, and the like. If the two of you can work on sorting through how you each deal with finances and then work on figuring out how you intend to handle money in your marriage, it will be super good! Trust me!
Kids - Do you want them? Does he want them? How soon? How many? If you're headed toward a future life together you kinda need to be on similar pages with expectations in regards to a family.
Mutual Submission - This is also huge. That book, "Love and Respect" is actually true. Dating would be a great time to start sorting through what it means to respect your future husband unconditionally. And what it means for him to love his wife unconditionally. The unconditionally is the hard part and it feels really counter-intuitive. If future hubby does something awful (and oh it will happen!) you naturally remove your respect. But God calls wives to respect no matter what. It's not about saying bad behavior is ok, it's about still treating our husbands respectfully even when they are wrong. And vice versa. Husbands need to act loving towards their wives even when their wives are being awful. Men really do need respect to feel loved...and women need to always be treated with love to feel loved. This is a kind of mutual submission to each other that is true commitment....and extremely hard to do. Talk about it now. Work on it now, it will help in the future.
Life Expectations - What do you and your boyfriend expect your first year of marriage to be like? What jobs to you envision? Where would you want to live? How will your lives change? It'd be good to talk through some of these things before you're engaged so you can reasonably plan for the future (be prepared for plans to change though, God loves doing that!!)
All these things are Godly and they will help you have a realistic and strong foundation for marriage. But the truth is...you can't ever totally prepare! That's a big part of why our blog is called the "HolyMess". We wanted to call it "Holy Crap" or in my case an expletive that starts with "s". Because marriage is holy and crap at the same time. And at some point I think everyone thinks to themselves, "Oh holy crap! What did I get myself into!?" The good thing is that we can all grow and learn and we have a loving Father alongside to help us all navigate the many tricky parts!