My boyfriend and I have been good friends for the past five years and we just began dating a little over eight months ago. We have a lot of deep conversations and we both feel that God is calling us to marriage. Do you have any specific questions or topics that we need to talk about before we take the next serious step and get engaged?
Assuming you are both practicing Catholics who adhere to all the Church teaches, your deep friendship grounded in your shared strong faith is going to get you through life together, regardless of any unrest. Here are some things I would suggest you consider that I believe are the only would be helpful as you move forward to the next big step:
1) Do you both understand the commitment to marriage being permanent, requiring fidelity to each other, and being open to children from the moment you marry? Are you practicing Catholics who live a sacramental life? Do you rely on God's grace and know to call on the grace of the sacrament of marriage once entered into? Are you ready to give yourselves to each other with a full consent of the will and based on first understanding what is expected in marriage according to the Church?
2) Are you both committed to being chaste through your engagement (not giving in to pre-marital sex, which can only harm your relationship and take away from both of you the gift of your bodies which the sacrament prompts)?
3) Are you firm about never using artificial contraception within your marriage, nor using NFP as a form of contraception? Being open to life is critical. Spacing children is permitted if there is grave reason to do so, and NFP can help with that, but using NFP for a reason like wanting time to get to know each other or you just don't want any more children when there is no grave reason not to be open to it would be an abuse of the NFP opportunity.
4) Have you talked about raising the children? How you will discipline, educate, and guide them? It is important to be on the same page about these things, but also flexible if life should deal you a hand you did not expect.
5) Do you both know how to forgive and ask forgiveness? You will spend a lot of time unwillingly hurting each other during marriage. It helps to marry someone who knows how to ask forgiveness as well as forgive. Too many marriages are laced with prideful people who don't ever want to be wrong and must blame the other for everything.
6) Do both display proof that your love is grounded in service of the other? Do you tend to each other's weaknesses and needs and see each other's happiness over your own? Mutual love through service can get you through any trials, as well as help your love grow stronger. You are going to have your moments of weakness and need, and it is up to the other to be strong for the other's sake at those times. Also, both of you are inclined to selfishness by fallen human nature, so love for each other and the children that come in marriage is the path to sanctity that is a selfless life. You will both inevitably have selfish moments that threaten the peace, so it is up to the other to bear those moments well, and help the other come out of that selfish moment through gentleness and kindness, as well as firm requests for the higher good. Dating and engagement should be a time of seeing these qualities in action. However you are together now will be carried over into the marriage. So make sure you have plenty of opportunities to be challenged to love each other in selfless service.
7) Do you both have God and His Church as your point of reference for what you believe and how you live your life? This is tremendously important when it comes to resolving problems. Having God and the Church as the authority allows both partners to help identify what is right and wrong about the situation and in the actions of each, and help to know who should be sorry for what. But keep in mind that it is always a call to heroic virtue in marriage to admit you are wrong when you are not, for the sake of the other who might be too crippled in the moment to admit they are wrong. That is an act of charity on your part, and charity is always the highest form of living true love for another. Resolve the situation later, make the peace now. But do resolve it. You are not a doormat for the other to take advantage of because you are so generous and kind and charitable. Marriage requires both to be working on themselves in order for it to be a success. One doing all the work is just a bad marriage that is being endured, specifically by the one must do what they have to do.
8) Are you both on the same page about finances and your standard of living? Many go through financial crisis during marriage and it ends in divorce, not because being in financial crisis is so bad for marriage but because one or both do not cling to each other through the difficulties, nor trust in God to provide. Living a spirit of poverty even if you are affluent is important for both of you as well. Do either of you show signs of greed or desire for money or material things? It is fine to pursue material things in perspective, but not as a priority of life. Nothing should come between you, especially money. So right now, whatever your individual income, careers, debt, school loans, spending habits, etc., you both have to come to terms with these things together and consider the future scenarios. You don't want any surprises about how either of you factor in finances, if you can help it. Getting through the ups and downs of your way of life and financial situation together, without undo pressure on each other, is important. Helping the other in moments of weakness when they worry about money or job situation, etc., rather than making things worse by blaming or worrying, is also important.
9) Have you talked about your roles in marriage as a man and a woman, as a husband and a wife, as a father and a mother? There are definitely roles and duties in marriage that love demands we fulfill. To not be aware of them or define them together would be a big risk as you get married and just hope all will fall into place. Do not assume. Make sure you are both comfortable with each other's understanding of what you should both be doing or be willing to do, or not do for that matter. Problems with assuming the other has been a great cause of marital unrest and discord. Don't let your wonderful feelings of love keep you from talking about what your roles and duties will be.
These are wonderful things to have in place. But ultimately, it is the acknowledgement of God as your authority and relying on His grace that will get through, even when there are things not quite in place or still seem uncertain.
Two people who love each other with a mutual respect and a deep friendship are difficult to discourage from moving to the next step. These things are important to talk about and work on. If you are both willing to seek truth and work on faults and accept each other, you have so much in place that makes you ready for the next step.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.