Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Deepening and Growing, Together.
Although many people say, “marriage is just a piece of paper that doesn't really change a relationship,” as a premarital counselor (and long married person) I often smile to myself when I hear this. What I've found to be true is that becoming engaged to marry most definitely does change a relationship, often in positive ways. Engagement also affords thoughtful couples opportunities to build their relationship's strengths, as well as take proactive action to prevent possible relationship problems in the future.
How Do Relationships Change After You're Engaged?
- A Deeper Sense of Security: When couples become engaged, they often shift psychologically into a cognitive and emotional state that can be summed up by the phrases, “I choose you,” and “You choose me.” This security allows people to feel emotionally safer with each other, leading to greater authenticity, vulnerability and mutual understanding.
- Less Arguing and Bickering: Most relationship conflict is caused when people feel unloved, uncared for, or emotionally unsafe. When couples get engaged, they tend to feel more secure with each other. This makes people less emotionally reactive and better able to communicate calmly, as well as opportunities to talk about the things that are most important to them. This, in turn, leads to greater emotional safety, better problem solving, a stronger sense of love and connection, and more gratifying interactions. In other words, the honeymoon comes early!
- A Stronger Sense of “We”: As couples commit to marriage, they are committing to each other. They are creating a new family together, an “us” that is greater than the sum of its parts. This can shift the emotional dynamics of a relationship from those of two competing individuals to a shared mindset of being in the same boat. People can become more generous with each other as their sense of being together through thick and thin grows.
- Shared Hopes and Dreams: As couples move from dating to marriage, they enter a new phase of the relationship where they are considering each other as life partners as opposed to simply enjoyable companions. This provides opportunities to talk about their life goals, the things that are most important to them, and what they'd like their shared life to be about. Cultivating a shared sense of mission together can deepen connection and foster increased emotional understanding, as well as support.
The positive relationship changes that happen once you become engaged can surprise even couples who have been dating for a long time. Even couples who have been cohabitating without a formal commitment can experience a dramatic shift in the emotional climate of their relationship once they become engaged. Particularly in the midst of a cultural zeitgeist where young people are as likely to move in together due to convenience or financial reasons, casual cohabitation can breed anxiety or insecurity about the true state of the relationship. Crossing from cohabitation to engagement can ease anxieties about where each person stands with the other emotionally.
Becoming Engaged = New Opportunities For Growth
While many couples experience a positive lift in their relationship due to a strengthened sense of security with each other, a sense of increased closeness, and a commitment to each other, becoming engaged can also usher in a new period of growth for a couple. Why? Because moving to the next level in a relationship can throw areas where there are differences or irritations into stark relief when the timeline of a relationship shifts from “now” to “the rest of my life.”
As couples start thinking more seriously about their relationship, their marriage, and their shared future together, wise couples realize that there are things to sort out. This is always true. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship. No couple is ever in alignment about everything, and that's why getting engaged so often ushers in an exciting time of growth and change for couples in advance of their wedding as couples work together to figure out how to be even better partners for each other.
Even planning a wedding together can become a vehicle for growth. Consider that planning a wedding becomes the canvas on which each partner's personality and values are displayed for better or for worse. Power struggles, clashes around what's important and what's not, or similarities and areas of mutual cooperation can (and do) come into clearer focus. This gives couples the chance to map out their strengths as well as their growth opportunities. As they communicate and compromise about aspects of their wedding, they are laying the groundwork for a mutually respectful marriage (or, giving them both helpful information about aspects of their relationship they need to work on).
In addition to the opportunities afforded to people by planning a wedding, becoming engaged often compels couples to evaluate each other more thoroughly as conversations about values, dreams and “what I want my / our life together to be about” naturally happen. This, combined with more authenticity, more communication, and more real-life issues to address gives people a deeper understanding about who each other really is, and what is most important. They now, as a couple, have opportunities to improve their relationship on many levels, including the way they communicate, how they work as a team, how they support each other despite having differences, how they practice unconditional love and acceptance, and more. Smart couples do this work in premarital counseling in advance of their marriage in order to resolve potential problems before they start. This helps set a couple up for a long, happy marriage (instead of a short and frustrating one).
Advice From a Premarital Counselor
Here at Growing Self, we're big believers that high quality premarital counseling makes a huge difference in the trajectory of a marriage. [Read: Why Premarital Counseling Can Make or Break a Marriage]. Premarital counseling gives couples an opportunity to consider things that were not relevant in their dating relationship, but will be very significant once they are married, including finances, how they discuss emotionally charged topics, family relationships, shared goals and dreams, how they solve practical problems together, negotiating roles and expectations, and more.
On this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm speaking with expert premarital counselor Rachel Harder about the changes that happen in a relationship once couples get engaged, plus the skills and strategies that she teaches her premarital couples to help set them up for success. If you're recently engaged listen to our interview to hear about the most important domains of your relationship to focus on in order to build the foundation for a happy, successful and satisfying marriage.
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Ways Your Relationship Changes After You Get Engaged
Music Credits: Marissa Nadler, “Wedding”