I’m single. Never been married. Not even close. I do want to be married one day. And it’s my firm belief that if I want to be married that now is the time to learn about all that it takes. *insert #staymarried* Totally and completely I fell in love with Michelle and her family. In my heart, her kids are my internet kids. They’re hilarious. Like really hilarious. Michelle and her husband, Tony are totally transparent and they really want to share their life lessons to help others succeed. A few months ago, I reached out to Michelle and she graciously agreed to write this guest post. Single, Dating, Engaged, Married, I think you’ll love this post. I sure did!
Without further ado…
What is it about wedding photos that so captivate us? If a friend, or even a friend of my friend, posts their wedding photos, I will click and scroll until I have seen every last one of them. Ooooh, and if they have a hashtag, that’s next. Now I’m looking at all of my friend’s friends photos of their wedding. Whether I was a guest at the wedding or not, I must see all of it. Don’t you do that? No? Just me? Ok then.
When we’re single, we’re promised the wedding as our Happily Ever After. The world serves us marriage as the goal, the finish line, the biggest box on the checklist of life and it MUST BE CHECKED. So, we look and look for our perfect person. Maybe we’re looking for the one God set aside just for us with His special, holy Match Dot Com Algorithm – because you know God’s not on Tinder. Then we find our perfect person, and at the perfect time, we agree to plan this most perfect party together! What could be better?
Weddings are the best! The gown. The music. The venue. The cake. I love all the ideas. Planning a wedding is dreamy. It’s the best party you’ll ever throw. The wedding is where all of the personal touches are personal to YOU! It’s your day! And, you know there are plenty of magazines to help you out, plenty of shows about the perfect dress or the most luxurious destination. There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest to keep your mind in day-of-perfection-land for months. I love it, and at the same time, I’m a little bit afraid of it. I get excited for my engaged friends, and I also worry for them. I wonder in all of this pairing up and wedding planning, have they made room for planning their marriage, too?
We live in a world that is determined to sell us on the wedding. Our culture cares little about helping us develop the skills and characteristics necessary to build a marriage that will last. We don’t find out until after we’ve said our vows that this perfect person is a little more ordinary that we originally thought. It’s after the party is over that we see the work it takes to be generous, sacrificial, kind, respectful, and patient with our beloved begins. But, the world does a poor job in the wedding planning process to show us how to prepare ourselves to actually be married.
There is a surplus of wedding checklists available to brides, which look a lot like shopping lists. So, I wonder what it might look like to be planning a marriage, not just a wedding. If I could put just one list, one humble insert, into all of the wedding magazines sitting on shelves in bookstores, this is what it would look like:
16 Things To Do Before the Wedding
A Marriage Planning Checklist
1. Spend time with each other’s family.
Eat meals together, watch movies, play games. Your partner’s family is about to be your family. For better or worse, it’s a package deal, so it is worth your time to be around them and learn their unique family culture as much as possible before they become your in-laws. Practice listening more than you share.
2. Read a book about marriage together.
You can read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman, Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson, or Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The point of reading a book about marriage together is to talk through your own thoughts on the content. If you’ve ever been in a book club or discussed a piece of literature for a class you know that two people can read the exact same book and come away with completely different ideas. Focusing on a book can help you dig a little deeper into the ideas you might not think to share in your everyday lives.
3. Spend time with your friends.
When you’re wrapped up together in your cocoon of twitterpation, swirling around with your eyes locked on each other, floating through the air on heart-shaped clouds, it’s easy to forget that anyone in the world exists outside of your most incredible and unique love for each other. Since I am also a big fan of your love for each other, I’m just here to remind you that before this big love happened, you had friends. There were people in your life who were invested in you, people you checked in with and wanted to hang out with. People who encouraged you to pursue Jesus, people who prayed with and for you. Do not forget about these people! Make every effort to spend time with them with or without your partner. Marriages succeed in community and fail in isolation. Making sure you’ve built and kept a close community of people is one of the best things you can do to ensure your marriage lasts beyond the honeymoon phase when you might just fall down a bit from those heart-shaped clouds.
4. Talk about money.
This can be so awkward, but it is so important! Money is in the top five issues couples fight about most. Take the opportunity before you’re married to share the details of your finances, your habits, your hopes and goals. Try your best to suspend judgement. This is a fantastic opportunity to grow together. Get a hold of basically any book by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey and dig into it together.
5. Talk about traditions and what celebrations are important to you.
For instance, what are your expectations around Valentine’s Day? Your birthday? Do you like big parties and week long celebrations, or do you prefer a short note or small gift. Be honest about what’s important to you. Share your good experiences with celebrations and times you were disappointed. How has your family done Thanksgiving and other big holidays in the past?
6. Talk about your views of divorce.
Do either of you believe there are reasons to get divorced? What would cause you to throw in the towel? It’s easy to look at your fiance and say you’d never consider it. But, you need to play out these scenarios together. Did you experience the divorce of your own parents growing up, or of any other family members? What was that like for you?
7. Get in some fights.
Really. Make sure you’ve had a handful of fights and then talk about the way you fight. Much of marriage is navigating conflict and stresses. But, it’s important that you don’t avoid conflict and recognize it is a natural part of any close relationship. If you never fight, never argue, never disagree, it’s very likely that someone in the relationship is holding back their honest thoughts and feelings and that’s no way to begin a marriage.
8. Talk about intimacy issues.
Talk about any past partners. Have either of you experienced any abuse? Do you watch pornography? Do you have any fears about intimacy? Any hopes? Don’t assume you know the answers to these questions if you haven’t asked.
9. Ask your friends and parents to be honest with you about your relationship.
Then listen to them. This will be a tough conversation to get started if you haven’t been spending any time with your friends and family. The beauty in building and maintaining close friendships is that these quality people can offer perspectives on things you could be blind to in the early days of love. Let your guard down a little while you listen. You don’t have to heed their every word, but their insight might be just what you need.
10. Have a garage sale.
You’ve likely accumulated a lifetime’s worth of stuff. Do you want to bring all of it into your marriage? Doing a big purge together can strike up conversations about memories and childhoods and the value of material things to both of you. Get to know what physical objects your partner really values and what items can be released or donated before you begin your new life together.
11. Take some personality tests.
We liked the Myers-Briggs, The Strength-Finder Test, and The Five Love Languages Assessment. These are great tools that will give you insight into yourselves and each other. You may not think you need them because you’ve done your best to be transparent and honest with each other. But, the truth is, these tests are tools that give us language to describe parts of ourselves we didn’t even realize were so unique. They open us up to each other and help us understand each other in ways we would never be able to describe on our own.
12. Don’t fight over the gift registry.
Listen to me, you will not care as much as you think you will about your dishes once you get them. The sooner you figure out which battles are worth entering into and which are better left on the battlefield, the more you will really be able to enjoy each other.
13. Talk about church and your spiritual beliefs.
What is important to you about your faith and your lifestyle? Are you keeping the traditions you were raised with, or will you forge new ones? What was your childhood like when it comes to church and spirituality? If your beliefs differ drastically, can you still respect one another and remain open to the other’s perspective? Or, are you each hoping the other will change? Be honest about how you feel and what you really want. Conventional Christian wisdom tells us not to be “unequally yoked.” What does this mean to you? Is faith something you can comfortably pursue together? The way you each answer these questions and navigate this conversation will be foundational for your life together. Make sure your eyes are open as wide as possible.
14. Discuss politics.
Religion AND Politics? Aren’t these the no-no’s? Well, sure, in ordinary polite society it might be best to avoid these topics, but not with your spouse. Your marriage should be the safe place where you can say what you really think and process how you feel about these hot button issues. You should be able to bring up questions and concerns you have about politics, government, and culture with your partner without being afraid of getting in a fight with each other about it. Again, can you respect one another and remain open to the other’s perspective?
15. Share your most embarrassing moments with each other.
Shame and secrecy ruin our opportunities for real intimacy with each other. Practice being vulnerable and transparent with each other even about things the other person might never otherwise find out about.
16. Don’t go into debt for your wedding.
You’ll avoid a lot of post-wedding fights and stress by not going into debt for the wedding. It’s safe to say that a lot of the ideas you spend time and money on for your wedding day will ultimately get overlooked by you and by your guests. They are not going to make a great impact on your marriage one way or the other.
Ah, if only I’d had this list before I got married! We DID fight over our gift registry. He didn’t like the dishes I liked. Then, I didn’t see the value in the $200 kitchen knife that he liked. How did I choose a guy to marry who has SO MANY OPINIONS about house stuff? By the end of what I thought would be a fun afternoon, I was ready to throw my fiance and that handy barcode scanner right out of the second story Crate & Barrel window!
But, we must have known some of these things instinctively. We did have some fights and talked about the way we fought. We also had a tough and vulnerable conversation about money and then took a course together called Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey. We didn’t fret too much about the wedding details, and we did not go into debt for our big day. I think we did the best we could to keep the main thing – our marriage – in focus.
Since then, my husband and I have been guests at a 500-person wedding full of lavish touches and then watched the relationship end in divorce just a few short years later. We have also NOT been invited to elopements and known couples that are still together decades after their private wedding. Whether you decide to have a backyard potluck wedding or a grand ballroom soiree, what matters in the end is the way you handle your relationship with your spouse.
Most of the items on this checklist involve talking to each other. After your one-time big event, there is a lifetime relationship that will need constant attention. More than any other factor, learning to have conversations with your partner about absolutely everything will set you up for long term success. Your views on some things will probably change over time and with experience, but your ability to verbally work through your thoughts with one another will give you a solid foundation for a lifetime of celebrating long after your perfect party.
Michelle Peterson loves LOVE! In 2012 she founded #staymarried, a blog and podcast that serves over 70,000 people each month by bringing them hope, stories, and resources to help couples navigate the beautiful and daunting work of marriage. She lives in the burbs just outside of Seattle, Washington with her talented and creative husband Tony and their three little daughters Claire, Nora, and Alice. You can find her on Twitter (@mchellepeterson) and Instagram (@mchellepeterson & @staymarriedblog), or hiding out at home with her girls.