How to Best Prepare for Marriage If You Aren't Living Together First
Cohabitating isn't the only way to get ready for married life.
It's true that more couples than ever before live together before getting married—and many are even cohabiting before getting engaged—but that doesn't mean that it's something you absolutely have to do. Whether it's out of convenience, or simply plain-old tradition, you can certainly postpone your move-in date for after the wedding. In fact, there are some pluses to waiting to live together until after you're married. "It builds excitement before the wedding (otherwise the before and after picture is rather the same), gives you a better chance of learning your significant other's good side before seeing the not-so-good-stuff, and allows you to gain more respect from the elders in your family," says Laura F. Dabney, M.D., a relationship psychiatrist. The key, however, is knowing how to best prepare for your marriage even when you don't live together. Here's how.
Establish very clear values.
Before combining your values with your significant other's, it's best to have a clear understanding of where yours lie. "When you know what you believe in, you know your authentic self—and when you can have intentional conversations with your partner about where your values overlap and where they're unique, you can know each other in a way that most people don't ever take the time to explore," says MaryBeth Hyland, a couple's workshop retreat facilitator and wedding officiant. "The key here is not judging the other for his or her values, but respecting and supporting them in activating them—especially where they overlap."
Understand each other's rituals and habits.
When you don't live together, you can fall blissfully ignorant to some of your significant other's day-to-day habits, some of which you might find to be particularly annoying. To avoid a total surprise post saying "I do," it's best to discuss some of these, and be very honest about them. While you're at it, it might be worth it to iron out the division of labor in your future household, instead of figuring it out as you go. "How were household duties handled in your homes growing up? How will that inform how you'll run your home together as a married couple?" asks David Klow, a licensed marriage and family therapist, owner of Skylight Counseling Center, and the author of You Are Not Crazy. "If you can't find this out by living together ahead of time, perhaps a discussion will help."
Know how to resolve conflict.
Whether you live together or not, it's important that you have some learned traits revolving around how to productively resolve conflict. Instead of getting heated, Hyland reminds engaged couples to focus on coming from a place of love and curiosity with the aim to find understanding. "Learn how to have conversations where judgment and defensiveness are not the driving factors," she says. "When you can do that, you will both grow and become a stronger unit."
If you haven't already, it's in your best interest as a future married couple to travel together before saying "I do." This gives you a sense of how compatible you are in less-than-ideal circumstances, according to Klow. "Handling various challenges of surviving on the road can give a good indication of how you might handle a life together," he says. "Spending long periods of uninterrupted time together might give you a sense of how you'll get along."
Spend time with each other's family.
Klow notes that couples often struggle with the boundaries that they will keep with other family members—things like how often they should visit, whether or not they should stay with you, and so forth. "Couples that have complications around boundaries with family members often report higher stress in their relationship," he says. "Rather than waiting until you are married to learn how to manage boundaries with other family members, it might help to spend extended time with one another's family to see how you get along."