5 To-Dos Before You Say I Do
Not for your wedding but for your MARRIAGE.
Now I get it, the wedding needs to be perfect! It’s one of the most important days of your life. Nothing else matters.
Yeah... not really.
Couples get so wrapped up in planning the wedding, that they ignore the big elephant in the room... their future marriage. As a pre-marital counselor, I see many couples who haven’t delved into the important to-dos before they say “I do.” Through our sessions, we find that they haven’t really thought about these things before. They are so wrapped up in their love for each other that reality hasn’t settled in. More truthfully, they are wrapped up in the details of the wedding that they forget that the wedding is a celebration of their marriage.
But, that’s okay. We all do it, but now you know better and can do things differently.
So if you are headed down the altar, stop... Hammer time! (Sorry I couldn’t help it). All joking aside, you should stop to take this opportunity to create a strong foundation for your marriage.
1. Make a budget: Not for your wedding but for your combined expenses on a month to month basis. It is good to know what you both are bringing to the table financially (both debt and income) and how you both manage your money.
The reason why it’s important to talk about these things is because once you are married you become a “household”. You’re headed for the altar but before you can get there you need to plan and often times both of your incomes (and debt) will be taken into consideration.
For example, when you choose to buy a house. Mortgage companies will often look at your “household” income to debt ratio (not a fun term) and determine if they will offer you a loan. It’s not fun to get your hopes up on buying a house only to find that you can’t afford it. So it’s best to know where you stand and not be surprised.
Plus this gives you the opportunity to map and see what expenses can be combined to save money (like a phone bill) and what luxuries need to be reeled into save money (like your monthly shopping spree at Gucci).
While you may not think it’s a big deal now, opinions can change once finances are combined so don’t shy away from talking about money. It tends to be one of the major issues that break marriages apart, so this is a golden opportunity to see how you manage finances and how you both can compromise.
2. Create boundaries: When working with young couples there usually tends to be a third and fourth partner in their relationship... the parents. Usually, it is one side that is a bit overbearing but when it’s both... well, brace yourself.
If you find that there is a parent or parents that are too involved this is the moment to shut that down! Don’t hold off until after the wedding, because it only becomes a slippery slope. A slope that ends with your father-in-law in your future delivery room watching ALL THE ACTION.
Ok, I think I may have gone a little overboard with the dramatics, but this does happen.
Parents can be very loving but they don’t know when they need to cut the umbilical cord (yours, not your future baby). So this is your chance to take action and to show them that you are good, that you got this.
A simple “I love you, I know you mean well, but we need to learn how to live like newlyweds without you,” can suffice. They might understand, they might not. What is important is that once that boundary is set, enforce it!
It’s important that they see you as an adult and your relationship as a priority.
In doing so, it is also important to monitor how much information you share. Granted sometimes your partner will frustrate you and going to your parents to vent is natural. Just be careful with how much is said. At the end of the day, your emotions will cool down but parents are like elephants: they remember EVERYTHING, especially when it pertains to their child getting hurt.
3. Imagine your future together: What does it look like? Where do you live? Do you have kids? If so, how many? How old are you when you have kids? Are you both working? What is your stance on dogs? Cats? Obvious questions, right?
I know some of them don’t need an answer right away, but some may.
How would you feel if your partner wanted kids 10 years from now when you were thinking 2-3 years?
What if you thought both of you would work, while your partner really wants to stay home with the kids?
(Side note: this is how having a good money conversation comes into play... it helps to see if your timeline matches your bank account).
If your timelines don’t match up, it is important to talk about each other’s needs and wants. Again, this is
the perfect time to do so. Don’t wait until the newlywed phase is over to see that you both are hoping for two separate things.
Not everything will look exactly the same and some things can be talked through while others are pure deal breakers.
Over time, circumstances can change which will change your partner’s view of the future. Knowing how to check in with each other is essential and one of the tools you learn in premarital counseling. It teaches you how to have an open line of communication, an open mind to changes and an open heart.
4. Talk about your expectations: This is a big one, but you are probably wondering what I mean by “expectations”. Well, it’s simply that. What do you expect from your partner now that you are married? Are the household roles going to change? Do you expect the same level of affection that you had when you were dating?
I get it, expectations sounds harsh. Marriage shouldn’t feel like a chore or a job, but in some ways, it really is like a business. You need to put time and energy into it for it to succeed. When one person is slacking then the “business” isn’t running efficiently and can be on the verge of failure. If both people quit altogether than the marriage is bankrupt.
It might not feel like that now. You are experiencing your pre-newlywed high.
However, after the newlywed phase, emotions tend to even out a bit. The day to day becomes more routine and your new title is not feeling so new anymore. That’s what happens over time.
Sometimes, it can be hard to keep up with that same level of love throughout your whole marriage, so what is a comfortable pace for you? What does that look like?
If that was not met, how would you go about communicating that to your partner? How would you feel if your partner told you that you weren’t meeting their expectations?
Knowing what is going to keep your marriage healthy and happy is important. Talk to your partner about what they need from you on a regular basis. Let them know what you need and be honest.
Your needs have to be met as well.
I love working with engaged couples but I often see them shy away from saying what they truly need because they rather just focus on their partner. Sounds super sweet and nice, but that can later make them feel neglected, resentful and unappreciated.
It’s only healthy to communicate your feelings plus it allows your partner to be there for you as well.
5. Budget for pre-marital counseling: This is a happy moment for you and your partner, but don’t let the stress of planning a wedding derail you from also thinking about your marriage. One thing that I always advocate for is to budget for pre-marital counseling. It allows you to check off these 4 essential to-do items before your wedding so that you can kick back, boogie down and cha-cha slide down the aisle knowing that you are about to take the plunge into a solid marriage.
Couples who take the opportunity to speak with a trained couples counselor have a higher chance of living a healthier and happier marriage than those who decided to do it alone. Premarital counseling has been shown to decrease your likelihood of divorce by 50% (Hanson, 2017).
Consider pre-marital counseling to be that extra piece of cake on top of your wedding budget. This piece of cake allows you to strut your stuff down that aisle with confidence because you took that extra step to quash any doubts that you have or may have in the future. That is a feeling that makes this investment worth it.
No amount of strobe-lighting or fancy flowers can give you that level of confidence like premarital counseling.
Plus, you get to walk away with tools that will help your marriage become even stronger than it was before. It does this by helping you communicate with your partner more effectively so you feel heard and appreciated in your marriage. Something you might feel now, but again you got engagement brain. You will also learn how to handle conflict in healthier ways because let’s face it, marriage isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Keep it real, you know it isn’t.
Lastly, it helps to go through some of that baggage you or your partner may be holding so that it doesn’t come out like World War III in the middle of your argument about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Yes, there is a high likelihood that you will argue about the dishes at some point in your marriage, but wouldn’t you rather learn how to fight fair and be happy rather than fight nasty and still have a dirty kitchen? Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
Either way, you slice it, CONGRATS on your upcoming wedding and marriage.