Before you and your partner make plans to say "I do," consider these five relationship builders first.

By Brittany Loggins
September 26, 2019
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Getting engaged is one of life's biggest milestones. The sentimental moment signifies that two people have finally met their match, and announcing an engagement to loved ones means you can officially begin planning the biggest party of your life thus far. While engagements come with their fair share of celebration and champagne, it's crucial for all couples to consider some major relationship factors before taking the next step toward happily ever after. To determine how couples can strengthen their bond before putting a ring on it, we spoke with Racine R. Henry, PHD, a licensed marriage and family therapist, who weighed in with helpful relationship advice that leads to healthier unions.

1. Get on the same page

It's essential that you and your partner first discuss (and hopefully agree on) life's most pressing questions. Do you both want children? If so, how many? Where do you envision yourself living in the next five years? These are all tough questions to ask, but important topics to consider before settling down. "People should have open and honest conversations about what marriage means to them and how they want their marriage to look," says Henry.

In addition to navigating life-changing choices, Henry explains that couples should make sure they're on the same page about what they want their relationship to look like on a day-to-day basis. If you’re nearing this stage in life, Racine suggests figuring out with your partner “how they intend to spend quality time, how they’ll balance other relationships with family and friends, and what each partner needs in order to feel happy within the marriage.”

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2. Make the move

Moving in together can help you gain insight into what marriage with your partner will look like. Sharing a living space can also help you and your partner troubleshoot basic issues. “You can get a preview of what marriage may be like,” says Henry. “You can start troubleshooting issues like sharing a space, cleaning, and finances.” Henry refers to these issues as “functional topics,” and stresses that it’s important to evaluate your partner’s compatibility with yours, even if some of the topics seem trivial.

3. Hit the road

Traveling together is a surefire way to gauge your compatibility, since it's often a stressful and unpredictable endeavor. “Taking a vacation together can reveal another layer of compatibility that you may not see while dating or even living together,” explains Henry. “People show their true colors when the unexpected tribulations of being away from home arise.”

4. Seek out therapy

Contrary to popular belief, professional therapy isn’t just for married couples or spouses on the verge of hardship. Seeking the help of a certified relationship therapist allows for a third party perspective on your union. “I would definitely recommend seeking therapy before and during your marriage,” says Henry. “You’re not going to solve all your relationship problems before the wedding day, but at least you’ll have an idea about what you’re dealing with.” According to Henry, the major goal of therapy should be to gain insight into how to operate differently within the relationship.

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5. Evaluate any and all red flags

Honesty and openness are hallmarks of any successful relationship—and it’s important to consider whether or not your partner has already breached your trust. “Cheating before an engagement can be a red flag of the relationship's instability,” says Henry. “I don’t have a ‘once a cheater, always a cheater,’ mentality, but infidelity can be a hallmark of both partners not being open and honest with each other about their needs in the relationship.”

Another obvious, but often overlooked, deal breaker is if both of you disagree on the idea of actually getting engaged. “If you don’t agree on whether you should be engaged or married, that's a huge red flag,” says Henry. “Marriage isn’t something you want to convince someone of.”

Instead, talk with your partner openly about the work you both anticipate will go into building a successful union, and use that conversation as an excuse to get excited about your future together. “You want both partners to be enthusiastic and excited about being together forever, but also aware of the work that marriage entails," Henry says.

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