Did you celebrate Valentine’s Day with an engagement ring this year?  Or maybe Valentine's was just the capstone of an engagement that occurred during the holidays for you.

If so, congratulations!  I know you’re thrilled – and rightly so.  It’s a huge decision.  It’s also a wonderful step toward all that God has planned for you and your beloved.

You’re also like most engaged couples preparing to walk down the aisle.  An estimated 2.4 million people will marry this year, in fact, and a full 75 percent became engaged between the holidays and Valentine's Day. 

Before you get caught up in wedding plans, however, you may want to pause and take a breath.  You’re about to engage in the biggest fight of your life, after all – and I don’t mean with your intended.  I’m talking about the fight to stay married, which can make the effort of squeezing into a size 6 wedding dress when you really wear a 10 about as easy as those cakes you used to “bake” in your make-believe oven.

Consider these public break-ups:

After a lavish ceremony and proclamations of eternal devotion, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills divorced just four years later.  Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson survived only three, after their extravagant wedding – the same as Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen.  But compared to other unions – like Tori Spelling and Charlie Shanian (15 months); Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush (five months); and Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney (four months) – that’s a lifetime.

Yes, those are celebrities.  Sadly, however, as many as 65 percent of all new marriages end in divorce – and a startling percentage are newlyweds.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median length of marriage before divorce for first marriages among women aged 25 to 29 was a mere 3.4 years.  Not only that, but recent statistics reveal that Christians are now divorcing more than non-Christians.

How’s that for an attention-grabbing headline?

Here’s the problem – or one of them, anyway.  Once that ring is on your (or her) finger, it’s easy to forget that the real goal of an engagement is to prepare for a marriage, not a wedding. 

Even if you do intend to devote hours to marriage preparation, as soon as you announce your engagement, you’ve boarded a fast train to wedding land, with decisions about everything from caterers and florists to guests and invitations that must be made.  Then, once you are married and the honeymoon stage (the first four months) is over, things can easily start to deteriorate.

What can you do to beat the odds?  A lot.

First, if you aren’t actually engaged but are considering it, sign up for premarital counseling. 

Most people assume premarital counseling is only for engaged couples.  But the biggest question you’ll ever face as a couple is whether you should even get married to begin with.  Assuming it’s done the right way, premarital counseling will go a long way toward helping you make that decision.  It will help you see the areas where you’re truly compatible, as well as those that need work.  It will allow you to determine your patterns of relating, which are usually derived from family dynamics.  And, it will uncover areas of potential conflict, giving you skills to cope.

Don’t worry that you may be the only couple in the class who isn’t officially engaged.  Remember, just because all the birds are flying in the same direction doesn’t mean they’re going to the right place.  When my husband and I joined the premarital class at our local church, we were the only ones who didn’t have “the ring.”  And yes, we did feel a little strange, but that soon passed.  Six weeks later, however – after we realized that we needed professional counseling before becoming engaged – we were more than grateful.