You’re Engaged! Can You Wait? - Part 1
- Friday, March 02, 2007
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.
So if you’re pondering the all-important decision of whether to become engaged, premarital counseling is definitely the place to do it.
Second, once you are engaged, be sure to set a wedding date that will allow you plenty of time to invest in your relationship – ideally, a year or more.
Not surprisingly, Christians tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to short engagements. Couples heeding the Scriptural injunction against premarital sex are definitely doing it right, but they also tend to be very impatient about getting into the conjugal bed of legitimacy. They’ve kept themselves pure, and now that they see the goal line, they want to make a dash for it. Besides, they’ve found their soul mate. Why wait?
Well, several reasons. First, you have the rest of your life to be married, but you have only now to be engaged.
“There is a time for everything,” wrote the Psalmist, and that includes your engagement. Like other seasons of our lives, it cannot and should not be rushed, lest we suffer the consequences. As with childhood, when we’re preparing to face the world as adults, the engagement is a time of intense preparation for marriage. You’re getting ready to take on the world as a couple, rather than two separate and distinct individuals. And that’s not something that happens overnight – or in a few months. Especially if you’re busy planning the biggest party of your life.
Second, there are required periods of abstinence in every union, which include everything from high-risk pregnancies and the postpartum months to illnesses and separations. My husband and I have been celibate for more than five months now. Why? Because like thousands of other troops, he’s been deployed to the Middle East.
Third, after the initial excitement of marriage wears off, you will probably experience attraction, however occasional, toward people other than your spouse. Shocking, but true. You’ll then need to practice the exact same discipline God wants you to practice now.
Bottom line: we all experience sexual temptation, whether married or single. It’s Satan’s way of trying to wreck the many gifts that God has given us – and he doesn’t give up after we’ve walked down that aisle. So if you don’t resist now, you may not later. It doesn’t get any easier.
On the other side of the equation are engaged Christians who are already sleeping together. Because they know they’re outside of God’s plan for marriage, they feel guilty. By hastening their marital legitimacy with a quick wedding, they hope that they can “cover up” the sin. But the long-term ramifications of premarital sex – which include everything from role reversals between husband and wife to intense guilt and shame, which will affect every area of a marriage – can’t be fully understood until a couple is mired in the consequences.
So, if you are sleeping together (or tempting yourselves by going too far), then stop, repent and confess your sins to God and a trusted mentor. Immediately. It’s never too late to follow God’s will for your marriage – and even a short period of abstinence before your wedding, if it is guided by heartfelt repentance, will allow the Holy Spirit to restore your ruptured relationship with God.
Remind yourselves that this act of obedience is like any other area of our life that requires discipline. Whatever you’ve accomplished, whether athletic, artistic or scholastic, has required discipline. Staying out of bed is no different. So put your trust in the power of the Holy Spirit for your sexuality by setting good boundaries. Practice patience, one of the Scriptural definitions of love (1 Corinthians 3). Know that God can and will give you the necessary discipline to hold out a few more months – to love your beloved, without sex – especially if you’re using that time in godly ways. Like any accomplishment you’ve ever made, it just takes some self-control and common sense.
Finally, sign up for premarital counseling – and not just a few token sessions, either. You should, of course, meet with the pastor who will perform your wedding, who will likely want to advise you over a period of weeks or months. But it’s rare these days for a minister to have the kind of time (or training) required to deal with the complex problems most couples face, once they start being honest about their issues.
So look into a premarital preparation program, which can run as long as 12 weeks. If need be, supplement with private sessions. There are also a host of premarital retreats that you can explore together. Don’t limit yourself to just one option. The more, the merrier.
And remember: what better investment can you make than your future? It’s a gift for generations to come – and you have only now to prepare. So prepare well.
This is Part One of a series written by Annabelle Robertson, a military chaplain’s wife and the author of “The Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You’ve Caught Your Man.” For more information about "The Southern Girl’s Guide" and to watch a video of Annabelle Robertson, please visit www.SouthernGirlsGuide.com.
To read Annabelle's blog in Crosswalk Weblogs, please click here.
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