Please Be Clear On These 7 Things Before Getting Engaged

Before saying "I do", you need to be on the same page about certain things.

Love & Relationships

Getting engaged is a really special time in a couple's life. Hmph. Let me tell it, a lot of folks miss out on just how beautiful that season can be because they are so busy "acting married" before the proposal (meaning, they put marriage expectations on each other without being married yet), then they are rushing to get down the altar once it happens. According to many marriage therapists and counselors, it's a good idea to wait between nine months to a year to officially say "I do" (over two years oftentimes means that somebody isn't really ready yet). To a large extent, I would agree. That's because the season of engagement isn't just about planning a wedding; it's also when two people shift from seriously dating to being intentional about becoming husband and wife. That requires a different kind of focus and energy.

A couple of years ago, I wrote "The 'Pre-Commitment Interview' Every Dating Couple Should Have" for any two people who are considering going from casual dating to something more exclusive. In some ways, this is an extension of that. If this feels like the year that you and your boo thang are ready to take your relationship to another level, please be certain that you are both on the same page when it comes to the following seven issues. The future of your marriage—and sanity—will depend on it.

1. Knowing Why You Both Want to Get Married


Something that I find really interesting is when, say a company does some racist BS to someone and the person demands a public apology. Once the story gets enough press, oftentimes the company will relent (more like concede). Then that same person will shop in that same store again. What in the world? The only reason the company apologized was because, while they still don't like our blackness, what they do appreciate is our green. The "sorry" is insincere. They need to feel it where it hurts—their pockets.

I might step on some toes with this, but I'd rather help people to not prematurely get engaged than end up in divorce court a couple of years later. Take a deep breath, now. About half of the married men (some of which are divorced now) who I know told me that while they were dating, an ultimatum was given by their girlfriend. A literal, "If you don't propose, I'm outta here." I know folks like to romanticize ultimatums 'n all but, to me, they are nothing more than a threat. Marry me or else? Why would you want a man who feels like he has to be forced to choose you?

That's why, when it comes to the things that are important for a couple to ponder before getting engaged, what tops my list is WHY they want to jump the broom at all. Not just why the woman wants to but why the man does as well. And if his answer is a simple (or even flippant), "What do you mean? Because I love her"—listen, you can love a lot of people and still not be ready to share your entire life with them until death parts you. You need a little bit more of a reason than that and it also needs to include you not being pressured into doing it. If the follow-up response is, "Reasons, like what?", let's keep going.

2. Knowing (and Understand) Each Other’s Purpose

I think I've shared before that when my mother was carrying me, she had plans to name me "Ryan" whether I was a boy or a girl (Ryan means "little leader", by the way). She said that when I came out, though, God told her to name me "Shellie". For years, I didn't get that until an Israeli woman told me in my 30s that my name meant "Mine; Belonging to Me" in Hebrew. Then I read Ezekiel 16 about covenants and dots started to immediately connect. Now that I'm a marriage life coach, doula and writer on relationships, my name—and the fact that in Hebrew and African culture, names speak to one's purpose—makes so much sense. My purpose in this life is all about helping people to embrace covenant-based relationships in a world that seems to do any and everything but. And you know what this means for me personally? It means that my future husband will absolutely have to complement my purpose as well.

For the record, complementing me doesn't mean that "he" has to do what I do; after all, my future Black king has his own reason for why God put him on this planet. Complementing me and my purpose simply means that he supports it, he seeks to understand it and he most definitely doesn't throw obstacles up in the way to hinder it (check out "Ever Wonder If Your Man Is Actually Holding You Back In Life?"). You know, I work with a lot of couples who are in trouble because one or both of them doesn't really respect what their partner does in the realm of their purpose, or they try and "compete" with the passion that their partner have for their calling. That's not good because if you are in the way of someone's purpose for being here, you aren't being a suitable fit.

I don't care how in love you are. If you're in a serious relationship right now, spend a significant amount of time discussing what your purposes are and if you both are willing to rally around each other. If you're not sure, at the very least, wait. Purpose is essential to one's health and well-being. Marriage should never compromise it.

3. Discussing Religion and Politics


A couple of years back, I wrote an article for this platform that addressed the fact that currently 4 out of 10 marriages are interfaith. Now for the Christians who frown on that, it bears remembering that biblical couples like Ruth (Moabite) and Boaz (Hebrew) and Esther (Hebrew) and King Xerses (pagan) were interfaith and they helped to change the trajectory of history. Still, it didn't come without some big time sacrifices—and that reality continues to ring true today.

One of the closest people to me is in an interfaith marriage. It has affected everything from her going to church alone and a lot of their views on child-rearing to how they observe holidays and resolve conflict. The fact that they are still together is a testament to their love; however, the wife has told me often that if she had known just how much their faith systems clashed, they would've probably remained just friends.

As far as politics go, I've got another friend who's been married for a few decades now. She's an independent and her husband is a Republican (a Black Republican). When I tell you that last year was super bumpy for their marriage, that is an understatement because here's the thing—your political views say a lot about your values.

I don't know who it was who came up with the rule that you shouldn't discuss religion and politics with other people but I'm over here like, whatever. When it comes to the individuals who are close to you (and it doesn't get any closer than an actual spouse), you'd betta! Your life running smoothly and peacefully depends on these two things—more than you would probably ever imagine.

4. Talking About the Expectations for the Relationship

I've got another friend who once said something to me that I didn't really like hearing at first (because I used to be this kind of person) yet it holds loads of wisdom. When I was ranting about a guy in my life not doing what I thought he should be doing, she calmly said, "Says who? Shellie, 'should' is a really big word." What she meant by that was, just because I had a certain level of expectation based on what I would or wouldn't do, that didn't automatically mean that he needed to be faulted for seeing things very differently.

Ever since that chat, I've come to get that a lot of the "should-ing" that I used to do was more about my ego than anything else. Now, what I've learned to do is communicate, almost ad nauseum, what my needs are in a relationship—any kind of relationship—and then let people decide if they want to meet them or not. If not, there's no point in bitching and complaining about it. It simply means that we need to relate to each other on a different kind of level.

Whenever I'm working with an engaged couple, something that I like to share with them is "276 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU MARRY". Usually when I do, the first thing they will ask is, "You really want us to ask each other almost 300 questions?!" Umm…yeah. You're really going to share a name, house and life with someone yet you're not making sure you know as much about them as possible? Including what they expect from you and the marriage?

You can love someone all day long and still come to realize that you should be guests at each other's wedding rather than the couple standing at the altar. A part of what can bring you to this conclusion is if you can't meet each other's expectations. Which you can only know if you thoroughly discuss them. Please make sure that you do.

5. Establishing Family/Friend Boundaries


It's one thing to be with a man who loves his mama. It's another thing for him to be a mama's boy. What's the difference? That's an article all on its own. For now, I'll say that if the man in your life doesn't get that once he has a wife, his mother is no longer his number one priority (when it comes to the women in his world) and/or his mother doesn't get that and he doesn't set boundaries until she does—that's a mama's boy.

I dig the Bible. I really do. What Genesis 2:24-25 tells us is when a man's wife is brought to him (in the Garden of Eden, Adam did not chase his wife; she was brought to him by the Lord—Genesis 2:22), he is to leave his mother and father and cling to his bride. God is all about boundaries in a marriage. Couples should be as well because a boundary is a limit and when you decide to take on a spouse, there should absolutely be mutually agreed upon limits that are set when it comes to your close relationships with other people. What should and shouldn't be discussed. What other folks' expectations should be now that you're functioning as a unit. How to deal with toxic family members. Stuff like that.

I've heard many people who have conflict with the person they are dating's family say, "Well, when we get married, I'm not marrying their family." You aren't. However, if they don't have some boundaries in place, those loved ones can affect—and even infect—your marriage in ways that you would never expected. Set those jokers now. It is one of the wisest moves you could ever make.

6. Being Aware of Each Other’s Financial History and Spending Habits

Do you know something that I request couples who are considering getting married share up front? Their credit history. Do you know how many people get pissed whenever I do? Most of 'em. Now how in the world do you think that you are ready to say "I do" and you think that your credit—credit that is going to directly affect your future spouse's lifestyle—is none of your partner's business?

Another "ouch" that a lot of folks don't want to deal with is the fact that there is some truth to a person's financial history and current spending habits speaking volumes when it comes to their character. After all, bills are basically promissory notes. When you say you are going to pay something, you should (the IRS and I have this chat semi-often…SMDH). You know, there's a recently divorced woman that I know who irrevocably broke her husband's trust because she was good for getting credit cards without his knowledge, racking up thousands in debt, and because her selfishness and recklessness had a direct impact on his credit, he would end up paying all of her debt off. Not one time. Multiple times. She is financially suspect as hell.

The IRS is the only place where I struggle. It's because, as a freelancer, I failed to get an accountant and pay quarterly for years. Now that I'm getting all of that together, I have no desire to marry until the debt is clear. It's because personally, I want to be a blessing to my future husband; not a burden straight out of the gate.

Everyone is different. Just make sure that you and your partner are very open about what your finances are like, what your views on money tend to be, and what your future financial plans and goals are. A top cause of divorce is financial mayhem. Get your coin perspective out of the way so that you don't end up being a statistic.

7. Stating Your Deal-Breakers


Honestly, if you're planning to take the sacredness of marriage seriously, there should be very few deal-breakers after you're husband and wife. That's because "for better or for worse" isn't about you getting mad one day or your partner disappointing you from time to time. Marriage is serious. Oh, but when you're still single—and to me, that is the case until your tax documents say otherwise—you can have as many deal-breakers as you want. At the end of the day, a deal-breaker is something that can't be compromised or negotiated. It doesn't matter how much you love someone. It doesn't matter how much you want to be with them. Your deal-breaker is where you firmly draw the line.

Sadly, a lot of people are so caught up in "being in love" that they either don't set or they romanticize their deal-breakers until after getting married. Please don't do that. Figure out where you are unwilling to bend when it comes to values, roles in a marriage, sex, your partner's relationships with others (especially those of the opposite sex), children and anything else where compromise just can't happen.

You know, I get so tired of people acting like marriage is some sort of burden to bear. Marriage is absolutely beautiful—when two mature and emotionally intelligent people know that it's something that needs to be taken seriously. Very seriously. If engagement is on the horizon, hopefully these points will help you and yours to understand whether you both do or not. So that you can choose wisely—either way.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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