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Laura Hunt

Relationship Guide
January 2004: Your Engagement Vision
by Claire Hatch
Claire Hatch, MSW is a licensed social worker and mediator who specializes in working with couples. She counsels people by phone around the world and in person in her Seattle area office.

Claire will be happy to answer your relationship questions in this column. Please send them to or call her at 425.823.2273.<
Want more relationship help? Then The Bridal Sanity Workbook is for you. Claire shares wisdom from her pre-wedding counseling experience and her work with troubled marriages.

“I’m thrilled, but nervous, too,” said Tracy about her recent engagement. “It seems like every bride hits the wall at some point. I don’t want that to happen to me.”

You’ve probably seen at least one bride “hit the wall” yourself. The moment comes when she can’t outrun her to-do list, keep everyone happy, and enjoy her fiancé all at the same time. She ends up exhausted, resentful, and overwhelmed.

It’s no mystery why this happens. Most brides these days have a full-to-the-brim life before they get engaged. Then they add a major life transition and planning the biggest party of their lives. To top it off, the bride and groom often have very different expectations of the engagement period.

The remedy? Know what’s important to you and what’s not. You feel balanced when the way you spend your time is in alignment with your values. This is true any time, and even more so at major life transitions. What you need is a vision for your engagement. A vision is a description of your priorities. It’s the way you make your dreams specific, so you can make them come true. It’s your compass. When you feel overwhelmed, it will serve as your guide.

Doesn’t sound romantic? Well, consider this. Time will not change just because you’re engaged. You will still have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will focus on some things and not others. The only question is whether you do it deliberately or accidentally. Something else to consider: your experience of your wedding day depends on your experience of your engagement. You can’t be stressed and out of balance and then turn on a dime and be a radiant bride.

A vision is also a way to head off trouble between you and your fiancé. I counsel couples all the time who are upset with each other over different expectations of their engagement. Often, she is dreaming of a timeless, romantic interlude while he just expects life as usual. The earlier you understand what each of you is hoping for, the less chance you’ll have this kind of misunderstanding.

Here’s how to create your vision. Sit down with your fiancé. Each of you takes a piece of paper and writes five headings:

Relationship with my fiancé
Relationships with family and friends

You may want to add more life areas, but try to keep it to just one or two.
Under each heading, write your top priorities. Limit yourself to no more than three. I know that will be hard, but that gives you fifteen goals in all! If you accomplish those, you will be doing very well. For example, here is what Tracy wrote.

Relationship with fiancé
Improve our communication and ability to settle arguments.
Make our engagement to be a special, romantic time of our lives.
Find a church we’re both comfortable attending as a family.

Relationship with family and friends
Get to know each other’s families.
Spend “girl time” with my mom, planning the wedding.
Spend time with my grandmother.

Self care
Stay in shape.
Hold onto my identity as I become a married woman.
Find a hairstyle I really love.

Save 10% of my salary.
Start making a financial plan with my fiancé.
Stay on track for a promotion in the next two years.
(Hint: It’s a really good idea not to take on new major projects at this time if you can avoid it. That goes for the rest of your life as well. Save the kitchen remodel for another year.)

Have a beautiful, elegant atmosphere.
Find a beautiful dress that really expresses my taste.
Make our exchange of vows a meaningful experience.

Tracy’s fiancé Jim came up with a slightly differently list. He didn’t know extra “girl time” was on the calendar. And they didn’t quite see eye to eye over time devoted to work. Jim has a lot of opportunities he would like to take advantage of right now and Tracy is afraid that wouldn’t leave much time for romance. It’s a good thing they’re talking about it early on!

Once you’ve got your vision, you can return to it whenever you feel out of balance or overwhelmed. It will be easy to see where your actions are out of alignment with your priorities.

Here’s how. Look at the last week. Write down the actions you have taken that support each priority.

Are there priorities without any actions? What result will you get if you continue to neglect them? What actions do you need to add?

Are there actions that don’t support your priorities? What priorities do they support? What result will you get if continue to pursue them?

For example, Tracy realized that looking for a church was not showing up on her calendar, partly because of the continuing education classes that took up a lot of her free time. Sharpening her skills was important, but she decided it was OK to slow down a bit, for the sake of laying a strong foundation for her marriage.

For actions that don’t support your top priorities, you have three choices. Cut back on them, delegate them to a friend or relative, or hire a professional to do them for you. Don’t overlook the power of delegation, especially when it comes to the wedding. Is your mother, stepmother, or friend being just a bit controlling? Make her feel valued and take the pressure off you by putting her in charge of a specific task, say the invitations or the flowers. And don’t assume you can’t afford to hire help. Get the numbers and look realistically at the trade offs. Your peace of mind may be well worth the money spent.

Still not sure that you need a vision? When your wedding draws near and you feel rested, delighted with your wedding, close to your family, and more in love than ever with your fiancé, I’ll bet you’ll change your mind.

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