Contrary to societal belief, engagement is not just about finding the perfect wedding dress, booking a venue, and tasting cake. No, it is also a time of preparation for a lifelong marriage (not just a day-long wedding). Riley and I were engaged for almost seven months. You may not think seven months is a long time, but we’d argue otherwise! As you know, today, most couples are engaged for about a year, sometimes even longer than that.
However, a year or longer was never an option for us. We wanted to honor God with our courtship and engagement, so we didn’t live together, sleep together (never even in the same bed), or go away together, and we genuinely fought to keep true purity in our relationship right up until we were married. (Not an easy fight, but the most worthwhile one of my life.) So yeah, longer than seven months? Not happening. (I’ll write more about these decisions and their significance in our faith stories in a later post.)
Though our wait to be married felt long and frustrating at times, we decided early on to be intentional with our engagement and spend as much time preparing our hearts and minds for the commitment of marriage as we could. We sought extensive premarital counseling, where we regularly poured out our hearts, our deepest fears, our most secret sins, and our greatest insecurities. There was great healing and understanding that took place through counseling; I highly encourage it if you’re engaged.
But some of the greatest breakthrough and heart preparation came from our individual studying, journaling, and reading throughout our engagement. I spent so much time reading while we were engaged (partially because I gave up TV for part of it), and I frequently reference the information I learned as I figure how to be a wife each day. Today I’ll share the 9 books I most highly recommend reading when you’re engaged…or at least my favorites of the stack I read!
1 | The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller
This book is just excellent. Nearly every married person I know asked me if I had read it when they heard that I was engaged! I definitely recommend it; it will reshape your thinking about marriage and give you incredible insight into its importance. (While this list is in no particular order, this is a great one to start with if you’re newly engaged.)
2 | Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman
This is a quick read (I got through it in one or two nights), and it was a really great reality check amidst the fairy tale-like dress shopping and candle-buying. The reality is that butterflies-in-the-stomach love doesn’t last through every season of life; this book helped me think through ways to communicate, show affection, apologize, forgive, and reframe my expectations. It also contains discussion/food for thought questions, which are helpful to internalize the information.
3 | The Good Girl’s Guide To Great Sex, Sheila Wray Gregoire
After lots of research and interviewing couples, the author wrote this book as a way to combat the notion that sex is merely the physical, shallow act that society has made it to be. She explains the importance of physical intimacy in a marriage and the significant impact it can have to unite a couple physically, spiritually and emotionally. She’s straightforward without sounding scientific or awkward, she addresses overcoming insecurities or fears, and she challenges couples to wait until they’ve entered the marriage covenant to be physically intimate. I found this book relatable and highly insightful! (And very entertaining as well!)
4 | The 5 Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman
If you’ve never read this book, you must (engaged or not!). It is a wonderful resource for understanding yourself and the people around you in a deeper way. Once you’ve identified your love language(s), you will be able to more clearly communicate your needs and expectations with your partner. Riley and I frequently refer back to this book as we learn how to be married and love each other the way each of us needs to be loved (and not how we think the other one should feel loved!). Definitely read this.
5 | Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud
There’s also a Boundaries In Marriage book by the same author, but I read the original, so that’s what I’m reviewing! This book has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, and for good reason. It is truly life changing. The book’s tagline is “When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life.” And that’s exactly what this book explains! The author asserts that every person needs to have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries in place to lead a healthy, productive life. I had never seen healthy boundaries laid out the way that the author suggests, and seeing them for the first time changed my life. There are people in my life (and surely in yours) who have no boundaries, so they don’t respect yours. Through reading this book, I learned how to hold firm to my personal boundaries without guilt, knowing that they allow me to function as a loving, healthy individual. Definitely a great book for anyone, especially those who are engaged!
6 | Sheet Music, Dr. Kevin Leman
This is another great book about sex and intimacy! It was gifted to me about a month before I got married by a sweet friend. She told me that it had changed her relationship with her husband, so I was eager to read it. It’s basically a practical guide to having a vibrant and healthy sex life with your partner. I like how the author discusses past sexual problems, past sexual experiences, and past sexual abuse–there is much healing to be found in his affirmative words and the Biblical truth he presents. It is clear that the author has done his research and presents accurately what makes men and women tick when it comes to physical intimacy, which is both affirming and insightful. I would certainly recommend this to engaged couples (clearly), but married couples could benefit from it as well. (A similar, though more technical/scientific/clinical book is Intended for Pleasure.)
7 | Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian
This book was recommended to me no fewer than five times during my engagement, and I can see why. It’s awesome. The book is set up in chapters with prayer topics that a wife can pray for her husband like “His Health,” “His Integrity,” “His Reputation,” “His Work,” and “His Past.” Each chapter contains a short inspirational story related to the topic as well as a page-long prayer to recite and related Bible verses. It could certainly be read through from start to finish, but I think it’s better used as a reference to look up topics based on your husband’s prayer needs (or your own need to let go of a particular area of his life). The author asserts (and I fully agree) that arguing, bartering, and urging your husband to change will only grow bitterness and resentment in your marriage. She explains instead, as the title suggests, that the real power for change lies in a wife’s inner prayer life–because the real power for change is in God’s hands, not ours. Love it! Great book for any wife.
8 | For Women Only: What You Need To Know About The Inner Lives of Men, Shaunti Feldhahn
I was loaned this book by a friend right after we got engaged; in her words, it’s a “must read.” Oh, how right she was. (This book and The Good Girl’s Guide To Great Sex, number three on this list, are probably my two favorites!) I read this book sitting on the beach in June, the month before I walked down the aisle. It is fascinating, and short, making it a very easy and enjoyable read. The author has her master’s degree from Harvard, which is evidenced by her clear, concise writing and thorough research. I learned a lot about the way men view marriage as well as what I can do/how I can communicate with Riley as his wife. I loved this book.
9 | The Unveiled Wife, Jennifer Smith
I was reading Jennifer Smith’s blog when I noticed that she was looking for bloggers to review her newest devotional, Wife After God: 30 Day Devotional in exchange for that book and another she had written. I signed up, received the devotional, read it, wrote a review about it here, and then read the other book she sent as a bonus–The Unveiled Wife. Wow, what an excellent book. It’s the author’s own story about her marriage and the many things that have plagued it: from not being able to have sex with her husband for the first 14 years of marriage (!!!), to her husband’s addiction to pornography, to her subsequent addiction to the same thing, to finding healing and bringing babies into the world–her story is a fantastic one of redemption and grace. She gave me such hope and confidence going into marriage as I was reminded that God can hold anything together; my job is to be a wife who loves Him first, and my husband second.
Of course, another book that I read during my engagement (and will continue to read forever) is my Bible. I turned to it throughout our engagement for strength and comfort. Now that you’ve seen what I read, I’d love to hear from you! Are you engaged? Do you plan on reading any of these books? Something else? Are you married? Do you have any great book suggestions? Comment below, I’d love to hear!
And, just for fun, here are a few shots from our engagement, courtesy of my little sister, who was hiding in the bushes with her camera! 🙂 (Read the full story of our engagement here…and how we met and fell in love here!)
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I’ve noticed some of these books have study guides available. Did you use study guides for any of these?
Blair Lamb says
I didn’t. (Mostly because I didn’t know there were study guides!) If you end up trying them out and liking them, definitely let me know! 🙂 Thanks for reading!
Great recommendations, The 5 Love Languages is great! I recommend Project Everlasting: Two Bachelors Discover the Secrets of America’s Greatest Marriages by Mathew Boggs and Jason Miller and found it has great stories and advice for any stage of a relationship!
Blair Lamb says
Oh, that sounds so interesting!! Thanks for sharing!
As an engaged person myself I love this post! And how funny that I’m reading or will read about 1/3 of these already. I read Sheila’s “Good Girls’ Guide to Great Sex” for the first half of this semester. I’m currently on Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.” Our pastor is having us read “Sheet Music” as part of our premarital counseling, and I haven’t read “For Women Only,” but I HAVE read “For Young Women Only,” which references that book a lot. I’ll have to check out the others!
Also, I hear you on the long engagement thing! My FH and I won’t be married until Oct. 2016 and we’ve been together for 5 years already! You thought 7 months was hard! I’ll be the first to say “Amen!” to that! I agree, it’s hard to stay pure and stick with your commitment. Did you do anything else besides reading these books to help with that purity commitment? Any advice?
Blair Lamb says
Hey Heather! 🙂 Thanks for reading! Wow! Sounds like you’re reading all the same things that I did…so awesome! The thing that helped most with purity for us, honestly, was to get married sooner. I would genuinely ask yourself why you’re waiting until next October and think about if you could move it to the Spring or Summer. I don’t say that lightly–I know the implications of changing your wedding date. However, one of my best friends got engaged last November and originally planned on getting married this past October. After praying about it, though, she and her then-fiancé moved their wedding date to June. For many people, it is simply too difficult to wait that long to live and sleep together. Something to consider.
Other than that, limit private time alone. You should definitely spend time just-the-two-of-you, but spend most of that time in parks, restaurants, etc., where there are innate social boundaries. The more time you spend alone in one of your homes, the more likely you are to overstep boundaries. Speaking of boundaries, make sure you’ve clearly defined them. If not, you won’t honor them.
Being engaged was easily the most difficult 7 months of staying pure. Riley and I were living 4 hours apart, so when we saw each other, sparks flew double time. We planned an intentionally short engagement (and still had a perfect wedding), and while we were engaged, we didn’t stay together on our visits. (Riley would stay with a friend when he visited Austin and I would stay with his mom when I visited Denton.) If you want to stay true to your commitment, you have to be a little over-aggressive in your boundaries.
So many people told me that being engaged was the worst because you have all the responsibilities of being married without the perks. I have to say, I agree that it was very, very challenging (though not “the worst”). Get an accountability partner, set up clear and defined boundaries, and avoid instances that would be highly tempting or difficult.
Hope this helps! 🙂
Anna Panza says
Have you read Prayers for New Brides by Jennifer O. White!! It is a beautiful book to read and has short daily chapters I add in to my morning devotional!
Blair Lamb says
I haven’t, but that sounds great!! I’ll put it on my list!
Do you have a list of books that your husband read or recommended books for men during engagement?