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You’ve met the person who you think is “the one,” and you’re truly, madly, deeply in love. But how do you really know if marriage is the next step? Jill Andres and Brook Silva were asking themselves that very question after dating for several years (with one year-long breakup in the middle) when Andres came up with a quirky idea: “What if we made like an obstacle course of challenges to see if we’d be good at being married?” Her joke turned into a carefully thought-out project designed to simulate the strains of marriage (money, monogamy, in-laws!) to see if their relationship was truly built to last. The couple’s new book, The Marriage Test: Our 40 Dates Before ‘I Do’ ($11, amazon.com), chronicles all that they learned in the process. We asked Andres and Silva to share five of the “dates” that they found most informative on their trip toward the aisle.
Phone snooping is one of the worst (and most common) relationship offenses. To see what it would actually feel like to snoop and be snooped on, Andres and Silva voluntarily traded devices. For 48 hours, they had unfettered access to all forms of communication (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texts), which turned out to be enough to make them vow never to spy again. Andres was surprised how uncomfortable the exercise made her feel—not because she had anything to hide, but because she didn’t like surrendering so much of her privacy. “I believed both us of deserved privacy,” she explained in an interview. “So the biggest demonstration of trust we could think of is to commit to each other that we weren’t going to snoop.”
Record a fight
This is what Andres and Silva call “the ultimate communication date”—and something they recommend every couple do. It’s simple: Record a fight. And then play it back a week later. “This is an incredible way to learn how you speak in your relationship,” said Andres. You might be surprised to discover how defensively you react to criticism, or who tends to dominate the conversation. “I learned right away that I say about 10 words for every word that Brook says, which is something we can work out.”
Take your partner’s in-laws on a date
Meaning someone who has married your partner’s sibling, or cousin, or parent. The idea? To get their perspective on the family’s dynamics. “I got drinks with Jill’s sister-in-law and after a couple drinks she shared some of the challenges of marrying into Jill’s family, and the main one was how non-confrontational her husband, Jill’s brother, can be,” explained Silva. Hearing her experience lent Silva insight into his own relationship: “I kind of realized that non-confrontation trait was a trait that Jill in some ways shares,” he explained. “And it’s actually pretty useful in thinking about how Jill is hesitant to share things with me.”
Swap credit cards
Money can be a funny thing in relationships. And for newlyweds, suddenly sharing it can come as a bit of a shock. To give themselves a dry run, Andres and Silva decided to exchange credit cards for a month and then compare expenses. The exercise was an important one because it drove home the need to be mindful of how every purchase affects you as a couple. It also prompted some hard but productive conversations about their financial future. “It really solidified to me what a large decision finances are for couples.”
Keep sex notes for seven days
In their book, Andres and Silva share that from the get-go, sex never came easily. When they sat down and thought about it, they realized that good sex requires good communication. So they came up with a simple plan: For seven days they’d give each other their “best sexual efforts,” and then debrief. At the end of the week, they opened a bottle of wine and talked about what had gone well and where they could use some improvement. “This date was a really great chance to be really open and honest,” explained Andres.
So how do you know if you passed?
The idea isn’t to try to solve all your problems, explained Silva, but to at least acknowledge that you’ve got stuff to work on. The hope is that addressing those weak spots will make your bond even stronger. For Andres and Silva, it worked beautifully: “Even through the hardest weeks, even through the ones that made us cry, I ultimately felt closer to Brook almost every single time.”