One of the greatest blessings of being the bishop of a BYU student ward is the opportunity of seeing young couples become engaged. It’s an exciting time, and I have enjoyed working closely with many young couples as they prepare for marriage.
In interviewing some of the couples in my ward who have recently been married, I asked what advice they might give to others preparing for marriage. These newlyweds offered some humorous counsel, like “Learn to admit you’re wrong quickly (even if you’re not!)” and “Fall in love with someone who lives close by so you don’t have large phone bills.” But they also gave some excellent advice about self-improvement, communication, social relations, and spirituality.
And you may be surprised to find out that not all of the things they mentioned were learned as adults; instead much of what was most helpful in their relationships were principles they had been working on all of their lives.
Here are some things you can do right now, no matter how old you are, to get ready for a great future marriage and family:
Improve yourself. These young couples agreed that one of the best gifts to give your future spouse is your best self. Andrew and Jessica Child said, “Set goals and strive to reach those goals. We did, and now that we are married, we can see it not only helped us get to this point but it will continue to help us in the future.”
One of the first things that attracted Jessica to Andrew (besides his cute smile) was his willingness to learn. She recalls, “He was always interested in finding out new things. That made him interesting to be with.” Similarly, Andrew was attracted to Jessica because she was actively pursuing positive goals in her own life. Andrew says, “She was making herself into somebody and not just waiting around to become somebody’s wife.”
Communicate. A great way to prepare for marriage is to learn how to communicate with people. Don’t spend your life in front of the TV and video games. Learn how to carry on a conversation that lasts longer than a commercial break. Julie Rose says, “When Marc and I first got together and I would bring up a concern or problem, he would immediately try to rush in and fix everything. I know he was just trying to help, but I finally told him that what I really wanted was for him to listen and try to understand what I was feeling.”
Along with listening, practice using kind words and giving soft answers. No one ever plans on being rude to a spouse, but marriage is not a magic wand that changes bad habits overnight. People who are in the habit of putting down family members, teachers, or friends with sarcastic and negative responses will probably do the same thing to their spouse.
Develop friendships. “Don’t think about love and romance as much as you think about friendship and fun,” say Ed and Lisa Knight. “Don’t have boyfriends and girlfriends too early. Just have friends.” Ed and Lisa did this in their own relationship. They were friends first. Lisa says, “Although dating is an important part of social development and can be a lot of fun, it is not how you learn to be a good husband or wife. You learn those skills more in other relationships with friends and family.” She’s right. Ultimately, your eternal mate is not your eternal date. The best marriages are built on a foundation of friendship and mutual respect.
Stay close to the Spirit. President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “Be worthy of the mate you choose. … This will be the most important decision of your life, the individual whom you marry” (Ensign, Feb. 1999, 2).
Whitney Rich says, “I have to admit that when I was growing up, I was afraid of marriage because I saw so many unhappy and failed ones. I wondered what I could do to make sure that my marriage to Justin would succeed.” Whitney and Justin spent a lot of time discussing this. They prayed, studied scriptures, and read Church-oriented books on the subject. They finally concluded that staying close to the Spirit was the best possible way of staying close to each other. Justin says, “The best marriage is not just a two-way partnership between a husband and wife. It’s a three-way partnership between a husband, a wife, and the Lord.”