You've met the person who you think is "the one," and you're truly, madly, deeply in love. But how do you reallyÂ know if marriage is the next step?Â Jill Andres and Brook Silva were asking themselves that very question after dating for severalÂ years (with one year-long breakup in the middle) when AndresÂ 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 jokeÂ turned into a carefully thought-outÂ project designed to simulate the strains of marriage (money, monogamy, in-laws!) to see if their relationship was trulyÂ built to last. The couple's new book,Â The Marriage Test: Our 40 Dates Before 'I Do'Â Â ($11,Â amazon.com), chronicles all that they learned in the process. We asked Andres and SilvaÂ to shareÂ 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,Â they had unfetteredÂ access to all forms of communicationÂ (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texts), which turned out to be enough to make them vow never to spy again.Â Andres was surprised how uncomfortable the exercise made her feelânot because she had anything to hide, but because she didn't like surrenderingÂ so much of her privacy. âI 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 werenât going to snoop.â
Record a fight
This is what Andres and Silva call "the ultimate communication date"âand something they recommend every couple do. It's simple: Record a fight. AndÂ then play it back a week later. âThis is an incredible way to learn how you speak in your relationship,â said Andres. You might be surprised to discover how defensively you react to criticism, or whoÂ tends to dominate the conversation.Â âI learned right away that I say about 10 words for every word that Brook says, which is something we can work out.â
Take your partner'sÂ in-laws on a date
Meaning someone who has married your partner's sibling, or cousin, or parent. The idea? To get theirÂ perspective on the family's dynamics. "I got drinks with Jillâs sister-in-law and after a couple drinks she shared some of the challenges of marrying into Jillâs family, and the main one was how non-confrontational her husband, Jillâs brother, can be,â explained Silva. Hearing her experience lent SilvaÂ 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 itâs actually pretty useful in thinking about how Jill is hesitant to share things with me.â
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 aÂ dry run, Andres and Silva decided to exchangeÂ credit cards for a month and then compare expenses. The exercise was an important one because it drove home theÂ 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.Â âIt really solidified to me what a large decision finances are for couples.â
KeepÂ 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 requiresÂ good communication. So they came up with a simple plan: For seven daysÂ 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 goneÂ well andÂ where they couldÂ use some improvement. âThis date was a really great chance to be really open and honest,â 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 isÂ that addressing those weak spots willÂ make your bond even stronger. For Andres and Silva, it worked beautifully: âEven through the hardest weeks, even through the ones that made us cry, I ultimately felt closer to Brook almost every single time.â