Though much of an engaged couple’s time can easily be consumed by the seemingly endless responsibilities of planning a beautiful wedding celebration, my husband and I found it especially helpful during our engagement to carve out time to prepare for marriage, not just for the wedding day or even for the practical details of joining our two lives.
Nick and I got married on May 1, and though a great deal of our eight-month engagement was dedicated to organizing our wedding—during a pandemic, no less—and finding our first home, we decided early on to prioritize a plan for engaged life that would allow us to cultivate intentional time together, thinking and talking about what we each expected from our marriage.
In addition to taking part in a marriage-preparation program as part of our church, we polled friends and married couples for books that they had found most valuable. We then prioritized reading and discussing those books together, allowing the ideas and conversations to guide our advance toward the big day.
The following books are the ones that we ended up finding most valuable during that process of study. We chose these books especially because they each helped to spark fruitful conversations between us, and they helped us to orient ourselves along the vocational journey we felt called to walk together.
For a solid foundation in understanding your future spouse and your expectations from the relationship
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
and The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse by Art and Laraine Bennett
Both of these books are classics for a reason. The authors have so much wisdom to share, introducing readers to the foundational concepts of the love languages and the four temperaments. We have found these sets of ideas valuable throughout dating and engagement, and now during marriage, not only because they help you to understand your significant other more deeply but also because they help you to uncover and understand your own personality, tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. These books are especially helpful because they give spouses a common language to communicate their needs to one another in a more fruitful way.
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Though I read this shortly after we got married, I’m sticking it in as a recommendation because I wish we had read it sooner, and I now believe it’s a must-read for engaged couples. The authors are long-time psychologists with extensive counseling experience, and in this book, they team up to offer a clinical (and even Scripture-based) look at the importance of boundaries for shaping and preserving healthy relationships. It’s a great introduction to the basic concept of boundaries for the uninitiated, and the authors explain in a variety of scenarios how boundaries will help you establish relationships that will flourish by respecting the needs of everyone involved. Though the whole book is full of wisdom, the chapters on family and marriage will be especially useful for engaged couples.
For couples especially interested in psychology and its role in shaping healthy relationships
Created for Connection by Dr. Sue Johnson, with Kenneth Sanderfur
In this immensely practical book, Dr. Sue Johnson distills her wisdom from decades of experience in couples’ counseling. Johnson shares with readers her thesis that attachment theory—the idea that children need a strong relationship with a primary caregiver for normal development—holds true for individuals well beyond childhood and helps to explain much of the conflict that can arise in romantic relationships. While plenty of books focus on the long-term effects of one’s family of origin, this one takes that idea several steps further, helping readers understand that no matter how they were shaped by their experiences or trauma early in life, they can form new attachments and seek healthy connection without being defined by those difficulties. We found the practical application sections of the book especially helpful, because they give readers prompts for having their own conversations based on the concepts Johnson offers.
Habits for a Healthy Marriage by Richard P. Fitzgibbons
This book, also by a long-time marriage and family counselor, outlines common struggles that can arise in marriage and pairs each type of conflict with a correlated virtue that, if strengthened, will help couples grow in each area of married life. We read this book together early on in our engagement, and we found it especially useful for the evaluation offered at the end, which helps couples explore how their families of origin shaped their current habits and their expectations for marriage and family life.
For couples especially interested in the theology and philosophy of married love
Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla
This book is deeply philosophical and parts of it, I’ll be honest, can be a bit of a slog for many readers, myself included! But I recommend you give the newer translation of the text a try, and allow yourself to skim a bit for sections that are especially of interest to you. Wojtyla, the bishop who later became Pope John Paul II, has much wisdom to offer about marriage and human sexuality, and this book is a great way to familiarize yourself at least a bit with the thought that undergirds his complex and masterful philosophy known as Theology of the Body.
For couples looking for a shorter, easy read packed with lots of wisdom:
Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married by Gary Chapman
Depending on the couple, some of the chapters in this book might end up being more useful than others, but we appreciated the author’s openness and his explanation of some of the common difficulties that can arise, especially early in marriage. We found that this book helped instigate some important and necessary conversations that we might otherwise not have ended up having prior to getting married.
By Love Refined by Alice von Hildebrand
This was perhaps our very favorite of all the books we read together, written in the style of brief letters to a fictional newlywed wife. If you’re impatient like I am, you can easily read the entire book in a couple of days, or you can read it together over the course of a month or two, taking it just a letter or two per day. Every single page has a pearl of simple wisdom to offer, and even if you prefer the library, for this one it’s worth buying your own copy, because unsurprisingly, we’ve found that her insights become even more valuable after marriage.