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What Makes Engagement So Hard

When I was single, I assumed engagement would be one of the easiest and most blissful parts of my relationship with my future spouse. But the day after I asked my fiancée, Raquel, if she would marry me, I discovered how wrong I was.

The euphoria of the night before was still lingering in the air, but I choked it to death first thing the next morning when I insisted that we set the date, make a budget, and figure out where the ceremony would take place. After two hours of stressful and unnecessary negotiations, Raquel started crying.

“I just wanted to enjoy the moment,” she said, wiping away tears,  “and I feel like we’re just trying to figure out all this stuff at once. It’s too much.”

She was right, though I didn’t really see it at the time. I was too preoccupied with ironing out the unplanned details, which were my greatest source of stress. But we were only at the tip of the stress iceberg. It was about to get harder — way harder — and here are three of the reasons why:

1. We chose to do things on a tight budget. The wedding industry is a complete racket. It’s a world where prices immediately go up by 30 percent just because you walk in and say the word “wedding.” But Raquel and I decided to go against the grain and do things as cheaply as possible. This required us to lay some things on the altar — things like the number of guests at the reception, nicer decorations, and a perfect venue. Negotiating those sacrifices was hard, and it caused tension as we both let go of our ideals.

2. We are not professional event planners. After Raquel and I got engaged, we discovered that wedding planning was a part-time job for which we were not equipped. I thought it was going to be like planning a really nice dinner party for a lot of friends. But it was more akin to planning a state dinner at the White House. And for two people who were working full time, it stretched us too thinly. Raquel was particularly overworked and stressed, so I ended up doing tasks that I assumed were the responsibility of the bride and her family. Then we were both stressed.

3. We waited for marriage to have sex. When I got engaged, a friend warned me to be careful. He said, “Waiting for marriage is hard, because you start thinking that the only thing between you and sex is the formality of a wedding ceremony.” He was right. And eventually, at the advice of our pastor, Raquel and I cut off all physical contact a few weeks before the wedding. We don’t regret that decision, because the real stress wasn’t so much abstaining from sex before marriage — it was trying to wait for marriage while seeing how far we could inch forward without violating our consciences.

There were plenty of other stresses that bore down on us during engagement, but we survived. In fact, I would say that for a couple who met only a few months before we got engaged, we thrived. And I think it’s because we recognized our need for help.

We met nine times for premarital counseling with our pastor, who spent about an hour and a half with us during each appointment. Those conversations helped us see that many of the struggles we were encountering during engagement were a preview of the problem areas we would deal with early in marriage: financial planning, unmet expectations, careless words, control issues, spiritual leadership, and my unwillingness to serve.

So if you’re engaged (or you want to be), please understand that you’re very likely to struggle with issues during engagement, and that’s OK. Just make sure you’re struggling through those issues with a wise counselor. Hopefully, that person will help you discern whether your issues are deal-breakers or, more likely, an unexpected invitation to love the person you actually got, rather than the idealized person you thought you wanted.

This post originally appeared at Boundless.org.  Photo from Creative Commons.