Lessons From Engagement...
I always thought engagement would be like dating but with a sparkly ring on my finger and planning a giant party. I’ve never been so wrong.
Our relationship immediately took on a more serious tone as we started to plan our “forever.”
Coordinating wedding details between parties in four different states was just the beginning. We needed to do some life and marriage planning. The priest celebrating our wedding trusted our faithfulness to Christ and knew we were long distance so he didn’t force us to schedule regular meetings with him.
At first we were thrilled, but then it hit us. “Just because we go to mass and pray doesn’t mean we know how to be married!” We started having occasional conversations about children, where to live, finances, communication and even sex. We were quickly overwhelmed and needed help sifting through all these topics.
Through all the avenues of marriage preparation we explored (counseling, meeting with a priest, an engagement retreat, and an inventory of our personality and communication styles) I think the most important conversations we had were about communication. We realized that we could not imagine all that the Lord had in store for our future, but as long as we felt safe talking through it, we could make it work together.
We learned not only how each other communicates verbally and physically, but why. How our parents and our families growing up communicated. How our past relationships and wounds have shaped our communication styles, especially addressing conflict.
Even more difficult than discussing conflict was discussing our sexual desires. Yes, these things require conversations too.
I could have never imagined how much stronger my body would crave his touch once I had a ring on my finger. Once we knew that coming together as husband and wife was actually in our future, our desire escalated exponentially. In our past, we were able to control our passions, but knowing we were so close to marriage meant the devil wanted to tempt us all the more. To say it bluntly, the devil is real. He is smart. And he knew what our temptations were.
We were both placed face to face with our frailty. With our need for Jesus and His Grace.
I don’t think I fully understood chastity before engagement. In a light sense, I knew that it meant to love a person as they deserve to be loved. Mike didn’t deserve to be pushed to his limits with sexual temptations, but he also felt loved and secure through physical touch. Where’s the balance?
Another definition of chastity says that it involves a “unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (CCC 2337). I took this in a couple different ways. First, we were not spiritually married. Without this sacrament, this permanent covenant, we were not ready for deeply passionate physical love. This means our bodies had to be in unity with our current state of engagement.
Second, the actions of our bodies had to be in line with our spiritual conscience. Just because we didn’t have sex doesn’t mean we didn’t push boundaries. We always knew, deep down, if we were crossing the line to purposefully “drive each other crazy.”
We had to talk about our short comings with chastity and come up with a plan to avoid the occasion of sin. We found it necessary to talk about what we did, intentionally or not, that drove the other person crazy. We needed to be able to protect each other from falling into these temptations.
It was here, in these tense conversations and examinations of conscience that I caught a glimpse of what it was like to lay down my life for another. To forfeit my desires for the good of my fiancée. I learned what Mike’s temptations were, where his past wounds affected him, and strove to do everything possible to keep him in a state of grace.
I won’t lie to you and say we did this perfectly. But we never gave up on chastity.
If either of us felt that we had crossed a line, we would immediately seek the mercy found in confession. Reconciling our relationship with God and bringing our desire to love each other properly to Him. Clinging to the sacraments kept our relationship strong and our focus on Christ. It is also the only reason we were able to abstain from many more temptations so that our wedding night could be the unifying and beautiful experience we always wanted it to be.
Engagement was so different from dating because we were focused not just on having fun and learning about each other, but learning why we do the things we do. Getting into the mind and heart of my fiancée was an incredible experience.
Tying it all together in Marriage...
Every stage of our relationship was vital to our marriage.
Dating was necessary to learn about each other, have fun, practice the balance of friends and a boyfriend and most importantly, realizing our need for prayer every day.
Engagement was necessary to practice how to order what’s best each other before our own desires, and how to talk through difficult topics.
Every tough conversation and lesson in chastity is still in effect today. I think the reasons our love is so strong and we never stop laughing are because prayer, outside friendships, friendship with each other, and communication are still our priorities.
Yes, married life is nothing like we ever imagined it would be, but it’s probably because life, dating and engagement were not what I imagined they would be either. It’s way better. We’ve only been married for a short time, but I have a sense that we’re on to something, and have a long, beautiful, joy-filled life ahead of us.