3 Critical “I Don’ts”…Before You Say “I Do”

It’s here!

The day you’ve dreamt of your whole life has arrived.

The dress hangs nearby as you sit patiently through hair and makeup. Excitement and energy are palpable as your attendants get ready. Champagne is flowing. Laughter and teasing banter fill the room, while outside, you know that guests are arriving.

It’s almost time.

You step into the dress. Busy hands adjust—fastening, tucking, tugging, and zipping.

You place the veil on your head, reach for your bouquet, and take one last glance in the full-length mirror.

Ready.

Or are you?

Getting married is easy.

Staying married is not.

And there’s a lot more to staying married than preparing for your wedding day.

Think of it like building a house.

What’s the first thing you do? You pour a foundation!

The foundation isn’t as visible, but its role is vital because it supports and stabilizes the rest of the house.

Your relationship is like that foundation—it needs to be strong, solid, and enduring. Whatever you build on it will depend on it (think children!).

Unfortunately, the institution of marriage has taken a real hit. 

Too many broken foundations, too many homes crashing down.

Three don’ts for a firm foundation

Concrete’s properties often make it the building material of choice for foundations. It’s strong and durable, versatile, sustainable and elastic, and has other qualities important for a house’s substructure.

If you want a marriage that will withstand time and weather all types of disasters, you must “pour concrete” for a stable foundation. But how?

1. DON’T build without a plan.

A concrete foundation is poured in steps, and as with most things, this requires preparation. If pouring is like the wedding day, then getting to know your future spouse can be likened to leveling the ground and building the form to pour the concrete into.

This implies a design. If you want to create something beautiful and sustainable, you need a good blueprint. But if your blueprint doesn’t extend beyond your wedding day, don’t expect much.

Where will the home be built? What does the floor plan look like? How big will the house be? How much concrete will be needed to support the weight of this home? 

We decide what we want our marriage and family to be by looking to those couples we hold in high esteem. What do we like about them?

What is it about them that works so well?

Create a sketch of what you want your marriage to be like. 

How will you spend your time each day?

What mutual goals and interests will you pursue?

How will you make decisions and resolve conflicts?

We often focus on what we want in our spouse, and we may even create a checklist of those needs and wants. 

But have you considered making a checklist for yourself? What kind of person do you need to be so that your marital foundation is solid and able to support a healthy family?

Consider bringing a professional architect into the design process. This might be your pastor, or therapist, who shares the same core values about marriage. The architect’s job is to help you ensure your design goals will work and steer you around “design traps,” like…unrealistic expectations!

Bob* and his wife, who have been married for five years, completed four premarital counseling sessions, which included a compatibility test that highlighted what they had in common and areas that might be potential problems.

Susan* and her husband Bret’s* relationship has been solid for 35 years, partly because they dated for four years before marrying.

Ashley’s* life tells a different story, however. She married and divorced twice, and both her relationships developed foundational cracks before the building process even began. Her first husband date-raped her after they’d known each other for three months. (Back in the 1960s, marriage seemed like the only viable option when one was 17 and pregnant.) There wasn’t time to prepare a strong foundation, so the essential qualities of a good “pour” were missing from that marriage.

Preparing to pour your relationship foundation means taking (enough) time to get to know each other. Susan attributes marital success to being able to see Bret in many different situations over the four years they dated.

“I wanted to see whether he had a heart for service, how he behaved around children, and, most importantly, his commitment to God.”

Experts also suggest considering how a potential mate treats their parents and family.

On the other hand, Ashley realizes she was naive and easily manipulated by the man who became her second husband. She was too quick to trust, wanting to believe the best without getting it. She compromised her relationship by not having a thorough design… and sticking to it.

2. DON’T compromise with quality.

Susan’s husband, a pastor, has observed from many years of counseling others that when it comes to your spouse, “you get what you see, minus a little.”

As a therapist and coach, I know that people often ignore what they see when they’re first dating or twist it to mean something else. I hear things like, “I just love him so much,” despite knowing that he’s a heavy drinker and that when he’s drunk, he’s not very kind. Or I hear a man say that the woman he wants to marry is very clingy and emotionally dependent, but it’s okay because that makes him feel important—at first.

If, as Susan’s husband said, you get just a little less than what you see, what are you ignoring that will weaken your foundation? Are there some missing ingredients in yourself or your partner that you’re excusing away? 

Engineering concrete is complicated; the mixture of ingredients must be just right. Experts explain that if “proportions are off, even a little bit, concrete is weakened, and durability is compromised.”

The most common mistake with concrete is to water it down. Doing so makes concrete easier to work with but ultimately compromises its integrity.

Are you watering down your values? Values shape our character, and character is the rebar (steel reinforcement) that strengthens the foundation.

If you get just a little less,  don’t expect them to change. If you marry thinking that you can change up the ingredients or repour him or her into something other than what they are right now, you’re deluding yourself.

It doesn’t work that way. Yes, marriage changes you. But once poured into the forms you’ve built, your foundation is what it is.

So, please start with the very best materials you can find and use the best tools available to keep that foundation strong, long after it’s poured.

3. DON’T give up on the blueprint, even when it gets difficult.

Concrete needs time to cure after it’s poured, and it gets stronger every day. But almost all concrete will crack eventually due to improper dirt work, bad soil, or stress. Builders know this, so they use rebar to reinforce the concrete and often create joints to control where a crack will occur.

You, too, need rebar.

You need to anticipate what those cracks will look like and build into your plan how you will address them. Unfortunately, too many couples treat their problems as a reason to tear down their structure and start over instead of anticipating and planning for them.

Cracks are inevitable in marriage. You can’t put two imperfect people together—with different perspectives, upbringings, etc.—and not have them poke each other with the sharp edges of their personalities. The longevity of a marriage smooths out the sharp edges and gives you the durability of a solid concrete foundation.

Ultimately, Ephesians 5 provides the blueprint for a strong, God-ordained marriage. Here, we find an outline of instructions for husbands and wives that liken our roles and responsibilities in marriage to how Christ treats people: with love, humility, kindness, and an attitude of service. When you follow this blueprint, your marriage will be able to absorb and distribute the tensions that will come.

Sometimes, though, we believe our problems are too numerous to repair. Perhaps the damage occurred because of poor quality materials, a lack of proper preparation, or structural compromise. Maybe we became victims of erosion or were toppled by a devastating choice with earthquake-like ramifications. No matter how the damage occurs, it’s a painful process for everyone, with far-reaching aftershocks. God hates divorce for this very reason (Malachi 2:14-16).

That’s why so much time and effort must be put into the design process before you say, “I do.”

If, however, you’ve married prematurely, don’t give up and start over. It will be hard work and require dedicated effort. But with the help of your architect, you can still build something beautiful that will last a lifetime.

Time to say “I do”

Although these don’ts and other aspects of marriage preparation may not seem romantic or exciting, they can be vital to ensuring lifelong romance and enduring love.

After you’ve leveled and compacted the ground, set your forms, and tied your rebar…you’ll be ready for that special day. But if you want your marriage to last a lifetime, remember your don’ts before you say, “I do!”

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