When I met Mr. Amazing, or Mr. A (a nickname I gave my husband after meeting him since he was the most amazing man I had met besides my dad), it took us only two dates before we decided we never wanted to be apart. We said "I love you" six weeks later, went on an epic trip to Asia, and fell in love with each other's families, and after 11 months, we were engaged. It's our whirlwind romance that felt like a dream. But despite all of the perfect feelings, we decided early on into our courtship to talk about the tough topics and ask the hard questions. And because having a full, healthy, lifelong marriage is something both of us are very serious about, soon after getting engaged, Mr. A and I decided to go to marriage counseling. We knew we wanted to make it a top priority to build a solid foundation for our future together before the big day and we also respected enlisting the help of a professional. In a lot of ways, we spent more time planning our marriage than we did our wedding. Over the course of nine months, we made it our mission to prepare for our sacred union. This included writing and creating our family mission statement, sharing our goals and expectations, and going on a weekend engaged couples retreat through our church.
Here are our nine crucial topics we covered and why I think going to marriage counseling before the big day will save you from couples therapy later.
1. The Past Is the Past . . . or Is It?
One of the first exercises we did during our couples retreat was share our past, and I'm not talking about exes. We each had to complete a series of questions about our childhood and our upbringing and then discuss them together. This included how we were raised, how we were disciplined, our parents' relationships, how arguments were resolved in our houses, and how we were shown love as a child. This was really interesting because we learned how one's childhood and how they were brought up affects and shapes how we are as adults, including how we act in relationships and even how we parent. Even if you think you know how your significant other's upbringing was, you learn so much from each other by exchanging stories.
2. Do You Know Each Other's Love Language?
We took Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages Quiz a couple months into dating to learn how we express and receive love. I learned I like to hear Words of Affirmation while Mr. A wants Quality Time and my undivided attention. Knowing each other's love language allows you to understand how your significant other interprets love and how they accept love. For example, if your love language is Acts of Service, this means having someone clean the dishes might mean more to you than receiving a gift.
3. Money Talks
Having a neutral space where you can discuss money, credit scores, and spending is key to keeping an open line of communication about your financial future. How much money did either of us feel comfortable spending without letting the other know? How would we divide household expenses and bills? For my husband and I, we decided creating a family account while still keeping each of our individual accounts worked best for us. I found myself really enjoying the time we spent creating our budget, including prioritizing spending to reach our goal of buying a home.
4. Rules of the Household
If everyone knows his or her job, there's less of a chance that you will argue over spilled milk. I've spent hours listening to friends complain about their husbands who never put their dishes in the dishwasher, etc. What that has taught me is how important it is that everyone knows their role in the home. For example, Mr. A usually is on dinner duty during the week because he gets home before me, but on the weekends I usually try to cook for us.
5. Future Parenting
By the time Mr. A and I were engaged, we had already discussed when we wanted to start a family, but we weren't exactly on the same page. He already had names for our future children while I thought we would wait a while. This is also the man who wanted to get married six months after getting engaged while I thought we'd wait a year, so I should have known! After we discussed becoming parents with our marriage counselor, we learned that we were more on the same page than we thought and reached a compromise.
6. Fighting Fair
I hate fighting; people screaming at each other stresses me out. I'm the kind of person that wants to apologize and make up immediately. Mr. A, on the other hand, needs space and time. We've both adapted to each other's needs, but this was only after hearing each other's point of view. Writing letters to one another explaining how we felt during and after a fight and reading them to each other after things cooled off helped, too. Keep in mind you could meet with the counselor days or weeks after the fight so you're no longer upset, but it helps you resolve the problem, figure out how to handle future conflict, and move on.
7. Family (the In-Laws) Boundaries
Both of us are extremely close to our families, but as our relationship grows and as we start our own new family, it's important to keep the relationship we have together separate from our immediate families. This is especially crucial when it comes to running our household or how we will parent one day. When you're close to your family, it's easy to share things with them and include them in decision making. However, discussing family boundaries is important for maintaining your own privacy while keeping an open line of communication.
We have my friends, his friends, and our friends. When you add family and work social obligations, it leaves little time for "us." Figuring out how to prioritize time for each other takes work and it also means having to say "no" to others sometimes. However, a healthy balance is when Mr. A gets his boys nights and I have my girl time. A solution we came up with to make time for our friends without sacrificing time with one another is to spend time with our friends when the other is busy. Plus, we are lucky to have a ton of mutual couple friends so we love to double date. Most importantly, we rarely make plans without checking in with each other.
9. Goals (Mission Statement)
One of my favorite activities we did during a session was write down our goals. We each made a list of our personal, professional, and couple goals. One of my favorite quotes is "Love is not gazing at each other but looking outward together in the same direction." This activity serves as a map for where you want your relationship to go and the compromises (promises) you must make to get there. While your goals list can and should change quarterly or annually, your family mission statement should be the core philosophy of your lives.
At the beginning of this post, I said that I think marriage counseling before marriage saves you from couples therapy later. This doesn't mean you should stop working on your relationship once you are one. In fact, I think it should continue! I believe you should absolutely continue to work on your marriage beyond your big day — whether it be with a marriage counselor, one-on-one, or going on retreats. Having monthly, quarterly, or yearly check-ins with your significant other is healthy and a positive way to protect your relationship. I look forward to continuing to learn more about my husband, growing and changing together, and improving myself as a wife, friend, partner, and soon, mother of his children.
This post originally appeared on BrandiMilloy.com.