If you're engaged or seriously dating, you're likely excited about taking the next step in your relationship. Dating can be fun, but it can also be a valuable way to make sure you're ready for marriage and to build specific skills you'll need for a successful marriage.

Here are 10 dates you can use to prepare for marriage:

1. Sharing Hopes, Dreams, and Expectations: Talk about your expectations for your relationship. Discuss how important issues such as these are to you and your partner: commitment and security, companionship and friendship, sexuality and sensuality, affection and tenderness, encouragement, intellectual closeness, mutual activity, and building a family. Next, share your hopes and dreams with each other. Talk about topics such as where you would like to live, your ideal home, career plans and goals, finances, family traditions and holiday celebrations, your dream getaway, spirituality, your future family, and any other short- or long-term goals. Pray for God to give you a vision of how you could work together in the future to build a shared life.

2. Appreciating Your Differences: Seek to understand the ways you and your partner are alike, and the ways you're different. Consider whether you're feelings-oriented or facts-oriented, a private or public person, spontaneous or a planner, a live wire or laidback, a night owl or a day lark, time-oriented or not, and a saver or a spender. Make a list of your combined strengths and try to complement each other to minimize your weaknesses.

3. Communicating and Connecting: Recognize the three main communication styles - chatting (surface conversations), confronting (attacking someone else), and connecting (conversations that lead to intimacy and resolved differences). Strive to connect with your partner without confronting him or her, or defending yourself. Use "I" statements (instead of "you" statements) to describe how you think and feel about something. Then give your partner a chance to describe his or her own thoughts and feelings while you genuinely listen. Discuss how people communicated in your family of origin. Tell each other what you're current favorite and least favorite topics are to talk about together. Practice telling each other how you feel about various things (such as when your partner smiles at you, thanks you, or makes a sacrifice for you).

4. Solving Problems as a Couple: Understand that the key to resolving conflict is developing a way to look at an issue from the same side. Realize that, while you won't be able to reach an agreement on some issues, you can always fully express and understand each other's feelings about them. Choose a sensitive issue to discuss. Then share the floor as you discuss it: Each of you gets a turn to be the speaker and the listener. The speaker has the floor and keeps it while the listener paraphrases what the speaker has said. The speaker keeps statements brief and stops after each point to let the listener paraphrase. The listener focuses on the speaker's message instead of on what he or she wants to say. The listener doesn't rebut the speaker's message during the time to paraphrase it. Follow these steps when trying to resolve a conflict: Restate the problem, identify which of you feels the greatest need for a solution and the other person's contribution to the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and select an action plan. If you cannot find a workable solution to a specific problem, plan to ask your pastor, a counselor, a mentor couple, or a friend to help you work through it. End your date by doing something fun (like going out for ice cream) to celebrate whatever progress you've been able to make.