It’s hard to suggest a length of time that you should be dating before you get married, because every couple is different. We all know those who fall in love at first sight and elope a week later. These couples are often the ones who celebrate 50, 60, 70 years together. While others date for years, follow every guidebook there is on marriage, yet still get divorced. So what’s the golden ticket? While there are certainly no rules on how to have a successful marriage, we found that if you do the following before you say “I Do,” you’ll have a much better picture of the person you’re marrying and will have a much better chance at a successful marriage. Here are the five things we think every couple must do before they get married:
Take a trip together. You learn a lot about the other person when you travel—how they manage travel stress, how organized they are, how good they are with directions and even how they treat service staff at the airport, hotel, restaurant or car rental. There’s a lot packed into a trip and all of these details create a larger picture of the person you’re marrying. You see how they behave when things go right—and how they cope when things might go wrong. While traveling is certainly not an indication of your future life together, it does give you a little insight on how your fiancé may behave when stress hits in the marriage.
Deal with one another when sick or injured. Your fiancé may be the life of the party when they’re functioning at 100%, but what happens when they become incapacitated in one way or another. Are they suddenly a pitiful victim, needing to be babied with all of your attention? Or are they miserable and grouchy, blaming you for their pain? And what happens when you’re the one who is sick and injured—is your future spouse able to be empathetic and meet your needs? You really need to see your fiancé during the good, the bad and the ugly. And certain people when they’re sick can be pretty ugly!
Share the holidays together. This is when your fiancé’s full family will be on display and you’ll get to meet as many of the clan as possible—again, the good, the bad and the ugly! You’ll see family dynamics at their best and worst, especially if a turkey is too dried out or the Christmas tree falls over. Lots of people mixed with the stress of getting food on the table or creating perfect holiday memories is often the recipe for disaster. So again, you’ll see how your fiancé interacts with family members and reacts spontaneously to potentially stressful or awkward situations. It’s also when you may hear a few stories about the time Johnny had a run in with the police or about Susie’s 23 previous boyfriends. A little insider knowledge about their past is always a good thing—and leave it to a great-grandmother or second cousin to spill the beans!
Have a fight. Yes, that’s right. While we all want to have the perfect relationship and ignore that we’re capable of having embarrassing emotional fights, the truth is that fights are a normal part of any relationship. And it’s even been found that couples who argue are happier together—as long as you “fight” fair. No throwing of plates, no calling of names, nothing physical of course! But having an argument or fight means that you have a difference of opinion and aren’t complacent or apathetic enough to keep quiet. A fight means you both respect one another’s views (even if they’re conflicting), you’re not afraid of one another, you can stand by your opinion, you’ll learn from one another, you’re comfortable with each other and your life will never be boring! These disagreements are essential, and if you can survive these and grow from them, you can survive anything.
Make a large purchase or decision together. It’s always good to know how your future spouse handles money, so any sort of joint purchase or decision made together will give you a good indication as to whether they’re conservative or liberal in their thinking and actions. Do they research the purchase of a car for months, visit multiple dealers and know the exact time of year the model they have their eye on will be the least expensive? Or do they impulsively see a sports car on the road and go buy it that day just because they want it? Renting an apartment, buying a house, moving cross-country, planning a large trip or switching jobs are all large decisions that require more thought than what you’d typically encounter on a weekend together. Yet these are the real-life scenarios and decisions that you need to be exposed to that will give an indication as to how they’ll handle future decisions when you’re married.