Getting engaged is a major relationship milestone. That’s why it’s helpful to have been together for a while before popping the question, as this helps ensure that you know your partner well.
“It takes a while to really know someone because in the beginning you are 'in love' and hormones can impair your ability to see red flags or assess any challenges that person may have in those aforementioned areas,” explains Paulette Sherman, relationship expert and author of Dating from the Inside Out. “It can take a year to really start seeing both the good and challenging in that other person, in real life areas when dating.” Since time isn’t the only tool by which you should measure the merits of your marriage-ability, here are some relationships milestones experts say should happen pre-engagement.
Meet the family.
If you’ve seen the Ben Stiller flick Meet the Parents one too many times, the prospect of this introduction might frighten you, but experts agree it’s an important relationship milestone before marriage. “It can be helpful to get a sense of your partner's parent's marriage to discuss that relationship blueprint and how he wants a similar or a different relationship,” says Dr. Sherman. “Hopefully, you can also get a sense if they can accept you as you are and respect your boundaries as a couple.”
Find out if they’re a spender or saver.
Money is one of the things couples fight about most, so having an honest and open talk about where each of you stand on the financial spectrum—be it liberal or conservative—is important. “Money can represent security and people have different preferences for saving money or spending it which affects your joint lifestyle,” says Dr. Sherman. “Some people may have debt or poor credit whereas others have specific beliefs about investing and austerity, so discussing your shared beliefs and practices can help you plan for your financial future.”
Explore religion and spirituality.
Understanding where your partner stands in terms of their religious and spiritual beliefs, as well as his or her willingness to be open to your philosophy is a major relationship milestone. “Many times, couples will not realize the other had an expectation or assumption of what the religion would be for example when raising children, baptism, etc.,” says Lisa Bahar, licensed marriage and family therapist, professional clinical counselor and certified drug and alcohol counselor. She recommends making a visit to a local church, temple, mosque to explore your perceptions together.
Be open about past relationships.
You may have come right out with this info in the beginning of your courtship—or maybe not. Either way, it’s important to address any skeletons in your relationship closet. “Your partner's past relationships can be telling in terms of what lessons he has learned, what he believes about relationships, and what challenges he does not want to repeat,” explains Dr. Sherman. “This can inform your relationship going forward.”
Understand each other’s expectations.
While it may seems obvious, Rhonda Richards-Smith, L.C.S.W., psychotherapist and relationship expert urges the importance of having an open, honest dialogue regarding your expectations with one another (apps like Lasting can help with these sorts of conversations). “While having this kind of conversation is challenging for some, it is imperative that you do so before considering marriage,” she says. “Partnering with someone whose ideal day-to-day life looks nothing like what you’re working toward could spell trouble.”
Learn about their challenges and triggers.
We all have them—sensitive buttons that represent an emotional past or old wound. Dr. Sherman explains that it’s helpful to know what these things are before you agree to spend your life with someone. “The more that you can identify each other's emotional triggers and can learn how to work with them, the more prepared you will be to work through life challenges together,” she says.
Be able to give each other space
Spending a significant amount of time from your partner is a relationship milestone before marriage, explains Richards-Smith. “Some relationships grow and develop based on close physical proximity versus a deep emotional connection,” she says. “Giving one another space from time to time is important for self-care and the health of your relationship overall.”
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