A few weeks ago a newly-engaged friend emailed me and asked if I had any good book recommendations for her and her fiancé as they prepare for marriage. A woman after my own heart! Last year it was right around this same time that my husband and I became engaged and one of the first things I did – right after telling our families but still before it became “Facebook official” – was email a fellow book lover (with many years of a happy and holy marriage under his belt) asking for his list of go-to marriage books. I wanted to begin stocking our shelves with good voices who would challenge and encourage us in our life together.
I found so many helpful books and articles during that time, but a few stood out above the rest. I shared them with my young book-loving friend and now, with you, in case you need a few good recommendations for the newly engaged friends and family members in your own life:
For Better…FOREVER! by Dr. Greg Popcak (Our Sunday Visitor)
This book is actually directed to couples who are already married, but that didn’t turn me away. In fact, I think that’s part of what made it so helpful. First, it helped to identify some habits and patterns couples often find themselves in, so we could be extra-conscious about forming good habits from the beginning. Second, it helped to keep my expectations – in every aspect of our marriage, including intimacy – reasonable.
The most fruitful section of the book, for me, has been the chapter on the three major love languages (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). Dr. Popcak stresses the importance of becoming “multilingual” and actually provides exercises so you can practice! I find myself thinking back to the book often and reminding myself to be conscious of how I’m communicating my love, and to be generous with my spouse. I am very auditory. I like to hear and talk…and to hear myself talk. My husband is kinesthetic. He enjoys just being together, sitting quietly, cuddling or holding hands. If I’m not conscious, I’ll last about three seconds and then launch into a long romantic speech. That’s nice for me, but it doesn’t have the same effect on him. To be truly generous, to really speak his language requires a conscious sacrifice on my part to zip my lips, close my eyes and enjoy his presence, to communicate my love for him by the very fact that I am there with him…silently. I am still learning, but it’s gone a long way in the six months we’ve been married and I hope that one day it becomes like second nature to love him in that way. Either way, I’m grateful to Dr. Popcak for the advice!
The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Loraine Bennett (Sophia Institute Press)
I loved this book for many of the same reasons that I love For Better…FOREVER. Self-knowledge is important for anyone striving for holiness and trying to faithfully live a vocation that is…let’s face it…hard! I’d read the book before, always fascinated by temperaments and personality types, but had skipped the section on “The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse” because it didn’t really apply to my life. I picked the book up again on a whim one day and am so glad I did! The book identifies some of the different temperament combinations in marriage and the challenges they present.
When I read that our temperament combination – a choleric wife and phlegmatic husband – was particularly challenging (I refuse to believe it’s the most challenging…but that’s the choleric in me), I will admit to being a little nervous. But after reading the whole book, instead of fear, I felt empowered. It equipped me to be aware of areas in our marriage that can present a lot of conflict, and how to communicate more effectively, given our unique temperaments. It is full of practical advice. If you haven’t read it…I suggest you grab it up soon. It also has a section on the temperament of your children. I promise I’ll be picking it up again in the near future!
And finally, to spice things up a bit, a surprising pick: a book from the secular world on secular things…
Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding by Jacobina and Judith Martin (W.W. Norton and Company)
While it’s not at all written from a Catholic perspective, and many of the things addressed in the book are pretty worldly, it was still a breath of fresh air in the midst of wedding planning. And planning for the wedding is a significant part of planning for marriage (or rather, necessary evil…). Planning the wedding is usually the first real opportunity for couples to put their newly learned skills to use: communicating and compromising, budgeting, making priorities, learning to deal with the nitty-gritty of each other’s families, dealing with disappointments and all that other fun stuff. There are a lot of pressures and expectations from the wedding industry about how your wedding should be, the things you need, and frankly, it’s enough to drive you crazy.
This book is smart. It’s witty. It’s full of practical advice on all the little things that keep you up at night and distract you from the things you really want to be doing…like reading marriage prep books. A good (even if secular) read that, in the end, freed us from the snare of the wedding industry and helped us to celebrate and begin our marriage exactly the way we wanted.
Happy reading and happy wedding season!
Copyright 2013 Megan Swaim