While you may not have met the right person to marry, it’s never too soon to prepare for marriage. Marriage is a skillset that can, and should be learned, long before the chuppah. Here are a few key ways to prepare for the relationship you desire.

Parents’ Models and Mistakes

Whether you had parents who were wonderful role models or who showed you what not to do, you have the ability to learn and grow from their example and mistakes. For example, Stuart’s father was self-centered and had little understanding of people’s emotions. He rarely complimented his wife and was critical of her thoughts and feelings. When Stuart dated in college, he tried to give women solutions when they spoke about their feelings and never understood why this annoyed them.

He decided to take a hiatus from dating and read Guide for the Romantically Perplexed. He also asked his married sister what she thought made for a good husband. He started to use the listening and empathy skills that he learned in the book with his co-workers, and then felt ready to use them on his dates. He impressed one date so much that even though they weren’t for each other, she set him up with her best friend Lori. Lori and Stuart recently got engaged.

Embrace Change, Don’t Fear It

It has been said (some attribute it to Albert Einstein) that “Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.”

Relationships change people. Instead of fearing change and what will happen if unforeseen changes occur, we can focus on how we will cope when things stop being the same. For instance, Miriam dated a lot, but whenever things looked promising, she broke things off. She was on a career path and worried that marriage would hold her back from achieving her vocational goals. It wasn’t until she was in her mid-thirties that she got into therapy and worked on issues like time management, compromise, and focusing on some things that she needed to change in herself instead of only looking for what someone else needed to provide. She finally realized that working 16-hour days would not give her the fulfillment that marriage could, and setting more modest career goals would allow her to be happier, have a family and career fulfillment.

Fear of Intimacy vs. Joy of Being Known

When you find someone wonderful and decide that you want to take the relationship to the next level, you’ll likely find yourself in the struggle between emotional intimacy and the joy of being known. There is a tremendous pleasure in someone knowing you at a deeper level. However, it comes at the price of vulnerability. It is often the fear of intimacy and vulnerability that holds us back from taking our relationship to the next level.

Sari had poor self-esteem. She was raised in a culture that prized physical beauty and she just had average looks. To make matters worse, her parents and others gave much more attention to her smart brother than to her “only” above-average grades and her being a caring person. Sari became a social worker which allowed her to take care of others and make them feel good.

Ironically, this is what she so much wanted, but was afraid to allow someone else to do for her. She would deprecate herself on dates and sometimes not even go out with men who were outwardly successful because she couldn’t imagine what they would see in her. With the help of therapy, Sari stopped deprecating herself in conversations with friends and family, and she started to do an “inventory” every day of things she or others liked about her, or things she had done well that day. She learned that everyone has shortcomings and/or things that they don’t like about themselves but that doesn’t mean no one will love them for their good qualities.

She also came to understand that having areas where she was lacking would give a man a place to contribute meaningfully to her, which was good and healthy in a marriage. Once she was able to see how her good qualities made her desirable, and she was no longer afraid that a man would get to know her uncertainties and fears but could even embrace them, she was ready to date. She soon met a man who appreciated how nurturing she was and was excited that she appreciated him giving her an unconditional love that she never had. They have been happily married for many years.

May you prepare to meet the one and practice your marriage skillsets along the way.