For many women, marriage is something they’ve been looking forward to since they were a little girl. While it’s undoubtedly an exciting and momentous experience in life, it’s far from the only life-changing and all-important event. For this reason, it’s best not to rush your trip down to the altar. This is true even if you’ve been with your significant other for several years, or even decades. “Marriage changes everything,” says Sarah E Stewart, M.S.W., C.P.C., life coach and author. “You go from ‘all about me’ to ‘all about us.’” The key, she says, is to not lose yourself in the process. How do you make sure you don’t do that? Well, for starters, you can start crossing off this list of experiences that help prepare you mentally, emotionally and physically for a successful and long-lasting marriage.
Date and have relationships
While not everyone has the luxury of being with other people before they say “I do,” relationship experts agree that it can be tremendously beneficial in helping you know who is right for you and who is wrong for you. “When you do get hitched this will be the one thing that you are happy that you don't have to do again, but it is a process that I believe we should all go through,” says Dawn Michael, Ph.D., clinical sexologist, relationship expert and author. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a couple and family psychotherapist, agrees, adding that having relationship experience and a baseline of comparison gives you a point of reference when it comes to your future spouse.
Live by yourself or with roommates
If you’ve been dating your S.O. since college, it might make sense to just move on in together post-graduation, but this may likely be your only chance to ever have lived separately as adults. “Living alone teaches you so many things,” explains Stewart. “You learn how to be financially and emotionally independent—paying all of your bills gives you a sense of accomplishment and spending a few weekends and weekday nights alone gives you strength.”
Be financially independent
Along the same lines of being able to live on your own, having a solid grasp on our own finances will go a long way in making you feel ready to get hitched. “Whether you have a career or a good paying job, being financially independent means you are not going to get married because you need to,” says Stewart. “You have worth.” This also means that should you for any reason split up or divorce, you’ll be able to stand on your own two feet.
Get in one good fight with your fiancé
Experts agree that entering into a marriage with full knowledge of how your partner handles conflict is key to a successful marriage. “Every couple—even the happiest, most compatible couples—have occasional disagreements, misunderstandings, and differences of opinion,” says Dr. Walfish. “You need to know that you have a willing participant in open communication without defensive postures and that your partner has self-examination skills and a capacity for accountability.” In other words, you don’t want to marry someone who will always blame you for problems that arise.
Travel the world
If you haven’t yet had (or taken) the opportunity to see and experience the beautiful world around you, before you are wed is the time to do so. Of course, you can, and likely will, travel with your future spouse, but having the experience of traveling solo or with friends on your own accord—experiences that you can carve out for yourself and decide what they mean to you as an individual—can help solidify who you are as a person. Dr. Michael explains that, once you get married, traveling with a partner will be different and the places that you go you will be decide together. Take advantage of your freedom to be totally selfish in your traveling endeavors now.
Develop a hobby or two
Hobbies not only make you more interesting, Stewart explains, but they give you your own time and space, which will come in handy when you enter your marriage. Whether it’s running, reading, writing, yoga or meditation, having an outlet to express yourself and relieve tension and stress in your life will make you a better spouse and a happier person overall.
Establish a solid support system
Getting married many times shifts your friend circle, naturally because you have less time to spend with the girls and are adjusting to married life, says Marissa Nelson, L.M.F.T., a licensed marriage, and family therapist. “You may find that you and your husband entertain and go out together, possibly with other couples so it’s important to nurture your relationships with your good friends.” She recommends making it a point to call them when they cross your mind and to make it a habit to have a friend date once a month or an annual girls trip to creating memories together.
Stop sharing every detail of your relationship with others
When you first met or started dating, you might have unveiled every tiny detail about your new S.O. to your friends and maybe even your family. But now that you’re serious, it's important to preserve and protect the integrity of the relationship. “When you get mad, no Facebook rants or cryptic quotes about a fight you may be having and no more calling all of your friends for consensus about whether you are right or wrong in an argument,” says Nelson. “Your marriage is sacred and what happens in your relationship needs to stay in your relationship.” She suggests instead, leaning on a trusted best friend to blow off steam or find a therapist that you can confide in and learn skills to be a better mate and get through conflict.