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As soon as that ring makes its appearance, the focus shifts more to the event.  Premarital counseling is certainly a great way to help bring the attention back to what is important: the two of you starting a life together.  However, many couples opt not to attend any type of premarital counseling for various reasons.  If you aren't able to attend counseling together, or you just want a little extra help with communication skills, we have gathered some suggestions for you.  We also asked several marriage experts for tips and tricks to help you strengthen your relationship.

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Books

Head to your local bookstore and y0u will see that couples' communication is a popular topic.  It's not hard to find a book with marriage advice. Rather, it's hard to know which one to pick.  At mywedding, we have a couple resources that we love and use in our own lives.  First, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a meaningful and effective resource.  It helps you identify how you best receive love from your partner, and also how you should show love for them.  The analysis can help you start your marriage on the right foot, giving you just a little extra insight into how you two should show appreciation for each other.  Another great book is StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Although not exclusively a book for couples, it can help you realize your strengths and your partner's strengths, enlightening you on how to work best as a team.  Therapist Meredith Silversmith recommends The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman as an excellent resource for couples interested in figuring out how to turn arguments into constructive growth experiences.

Communication Exercises

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do to build your relationship is ask the right questions.  According to Tabitha Johnson, Ph.D.,  having "regular check-up conversations...can give each partner a platform to express their feelings about the relationship."  She encourages couples to chat based on a series of set, regular questions (ranging from "What are my hopes and dreams?" to "How does my behavior need to change?"). This way, no one feels blindsided because they know how the conversation is structured ahead of time.

Psychotherapist Christina Steinorth-Powell suggests that couples exchange "lists of 5-10 things they hope or expect from their spouse."  Doing this activity before you get married, and then annually thereafter, can help keep you "on track" with your marriage's goals.

Understanding that we all come into a relationship with our own baggage and lenses with which we view ourselves and the world, therapist Linda Stiles recommends Imago Dialogue resources.  It gives couples the "ability to communicate about even sensitive topics...making them better able to compromise and problem solve."

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The Basics

Here are 3 tips to help foster good communication and relationship growth:

1.  Don't get too caught up in wedding planning.  Clearly, we love weddings. We know how exciting this event can be.  But it shouldn't come at the cost of developing your future marriage. Make sure to schedule date nights, and agree to not discuss anything wedding-related.

2.  Remember the significance of the loved ones surrounding you.  Be kind with each other's family and friends.  Work on fostering relationships with them.  When your partner sees that effort, they will appreciate it!

3.  Praise is important!  Sadly, it's our partners that we often take for granted the most.  Don't forget to thank them when they have done something sweet. Or just remind them how much you love them, even during this really stressful time.

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