You’re getting married! You and your combination true love, soulmate, and, hopefully, best friend, have talked it out and decided to commit to each other forever. You’ve announced your engagement, celebrated with the important people in your life, perhaps put up with some joking (and maybe some not-so-joking) questions about why you would do such a thing. You’re sure. You’re going to make it official. A year from now, or maybe less, you hope to be standing in front of family and friends, exchanging vows, and starting the next chapter of your life.
Read the wedding magazines of a generation or two ago, and it’s as if the groom’s only job was to look good in a tux. The groom left the wedding planning to the women in his life and looked forward to a bachelor party. That may seem like a great idea to the guy, but couples who turn the whole thing over to professional wedding planners or their mothers miss an important opportunity to grow as a couple. Yes, it’s great to have other people do so much of the work that all you have to do is approve the flavor of the cake and show up. But working on a shared project of the magnitude and importance of your wedding day is a chance to find out about yourselves and to learn how to make mutual decisions. Your wedding can be an important rehearsal for how you will deal with each others’ relatives and friends, how you will manage finances, and how you will work as a team. It also sets the standard of what the two of you will expect of each other in planning other important events and milestones to come.
- Relationship with in-laws. Some people are lucky enough to immediately feel comfortable with their future in-laws. Most have to work at it. Is your future mother-in-law so passive you don’t know what she really thinks? Or is she someone who, given a chance, will take over? Is your future father-in-law someone who is so afraid of stepping on toes that he rarely steps at all? Or is he the type of guy who is used to having his own way? Whatever their style, it is your job to find a way to make friends with them as best you can. Yes, make the first move. Yes, make allowances and be willing to bend a bit until they get used to you. Even if they’re not your kind of people, you can be polite. By providing each person who loves your partner with a role in the wedding, you are affirming that they have a role in your life together. Your future in-laws will feel included and cared about. Your partner will appreciate not being asked to choose between you.
- Relationship with each other’s friends. The people we choose as friends are some comment on who we are or who we wish we could be. People who compete with their partner’s friends or who simply don’t like them are people whose relationship is at some risk. A marriage needs the support of friends in good times and especially in the not-so-good times. When friends approve and support a marriage, they are part of the glue that holds it together. Working to understand why the people in your partner’s life are important to him or her and finding a way to get along if you don’t naturally click is an important part of becoming a couple. Who you agree to include in the wedding party and put on the guest list is an affirmation of those friendships and a statement that you each respect the other’s relationships.
- Money, money, money. Make no mistake: Weddings in America are an industry. $72 billion (yes, billion) is spent on weddings. The average wedding budget is $20,000! Function halls, photographers, DJs, caterers, dress and tux boutiques, jewelry stores, printers, and myriad other services want you to spend, spend, spend. What they don’t want you to do is think too hard about it. A couple that sets – and keeps – a budget, figures out who will pay what, and keeps their priorities straight in the midst of pressures to overspend is a couple who will manage money well in the future. 30 percent of couples now pay for their own wedding. Only 17 percent of parents these days foot the entire bill. The remaining 53 percent of couples share the costs with family and friends. Whatever the financial situation, figuring out how to negotiate with each other and others about money is an opportunity to become financial partners.
- A question of taste and style. Perhaps you are a couple that easily agrees on questions of style. Part of what drew you together was that you both liked the same music and had the same idea of how to spend a Saturday afternoon. Or maybe you and your true love are a case of opposites attracting: She wants a bridal dress for her and a tux for him; he’d be happier if they could get married in jeans and lookalike T-shirts. He wants the wedding to be at a fancy hotel; she would love to have it in her family’s backyard. Whatever the case, planning the wedding will bring those similarities and differences right to the center of discussions. The easiest thing to do when there are differences is to give in. But the healthier thing to do is to use the countless decisions about your wedding as an exercise in learning how to give and take and how to compromise.
- Planning a wedding is making a marriage. Nowadays, a wedding is a statement about the two of you. Planning it, whether it is a small, intimate gathering at home or a pull-out-all-the stops extravaganza, is a project with significant implications for how you will operate as a couple. Sometimes it will be stressful. Sometimes it will require taking a timeout on a decision and coming back to the issue later. Sometimes it will mean making trades (you get the kind of cake you like; I get to choose the music for our first dance). And sometimes it will be a pleasure to find that the two of you are seemingly working with one mind and heart.
Marriages don’t happen with the magic words of “I do.” A marriage happens as a couple takes on challenges and works them through. Managing the details of a wedding will show you and your partner the strengths and, yes, the weak spots in your relationship. Solving the problems that come up between now and your special day will help you build a solid foundation for a lifetime of good teamwork.