When my fiancé and I got engaged, I found out that in the wedding industry, they call spring “Bridal Christmas.” That’s because such a significant proportion of couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Come March, they get down to wedding planning, and in the spring and summer, nearly 65 percent get married. A spending bonanza has begun.
The U.S. wedding industry — or the bridal-industrial complex, as some call it — is now estimated at $50.6 billion. Magazines, websites, bakers, caterers, stationers, dressmakers, florists, photographers, videographers, bands, DJs, limo drivers, restaurants, reception halls and hotels are just a few of the businesses that get a piece of the action.
And the amount of time spent arranging all those logistics is so significant that engaged couples should be able to list it on their résumés under “event planning” and “project management.”
If you’re nodding your head in agreement, consider taking a timeout. A wedding is one day. A marriage that reached its golden anniversary would last 18,262 days. How about a little less preparation for Day 1 and a little more preparation for the thousands of days after?
For our own wedding, we agonized about the ceremony, guest list, music, food, flowers, and every other logistic you could imagine. So three months before the big day, I decided to step back from getting ready for the wedding to get ready for the marriage. That meant taking a marriage prep course, gathering advice from married friends, and reading Timothy Keller’s excellent new book The Meaning of Marriage. Here are some of the tips we took to heart.
- Name numbers. Rather than just the stock “discuss your expectations for money,” consider writing down and comparing some specific numbers. What do you expect your combined income to be five years from now? Will you have separate or joint bank accounts? How much do you each think should be saved for retirement? What percentage of your income should be spent on vacations or travel? How much can you each spend per month without consulting the other?
- Frugality? Define it. Some pre-marital exercises have people describe whether their partner is “frugal” or “lavish.” But as one married friend pointed out, her husband’s idea of an extremely frugal lifestyle was her idea of a reasonable, average one. It’s more useful, she says, for couples to compare their definitions of frugality and lavishness with specific income numbers and ideas of items to save or spend on.
- Plan ahead for holiday traditions. The first few years may be easy, splitting or alternating holidays between your family and your spouse’s. When kids enter the picture, though, your presence will become more sought-after by the grandparents. Will you want huge extended-family gatherings that may require travel? Or would you rather establish quiet holidays at your own home? Do you need snow underfoot, or does a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day sound just as nice? Now’s the time to think ahead about what traditions you’d like to maintain or establish.
- Trade off chores. Running a household is almost like running a business, with a surprisingly wide variety of tasks to be performed. There’s vacuuming, cooking, laundry, bill paying, grocery shopping, doing dishes, car maintenance, home repair, yard work, cleaning bathrooms, taking out garbage, filing taxes and managing gadgets, for starters. Make a list of those chores, plus any others that come to mind. Circle the ones you like to do, and “X” the ones you prefer not to. Have your partner do the same. Compare lists. Negotiate.
- Establish better conflict habits. Talk about how arguments were resolved in each of your families — and what you might like to do differently. Agree on some ground rules. Some basics: talk it out, lower your voice, and don’t use the silent treatment. Also, never threaten to withdraw love or sex. And although you’ll hear other couples do it, don’t embarrass each other in front of others.
- Spell out quirks. Several couples have told us the biggest challenge of the first year of marriage was simply getting used to each other’s quirks. And a moment of truth during our official marriage preparation class underscored that. Around noon, I got hungry. Knowing myself, I had snacks in my purse, but the talking went on without a break. One o’clock came. And when we were finally let off for lunch, we didn’t know the neighborhood. “This looks trashy,” I complained. “We’ll never find a decent place to eat on such a trashy street.” After a few more minutes of my stomping around, we found a perfectly fine sandwich place. Trashy? I’d blurted out something totally untrue based on a blood sugar drop. Lesson learned: When I get hungry, I get moody. My fiancé took note. So, whether your partner doesn’t want to speak a word for 10 minutes after waking up, or you blow your nose in the shower, or whatever it is, warn each other of your quirks. Decide if any will be totally intolerable to the other and agree to work on those habits before you start screaming or otherwise driving each other bonkers.
When it comes to marriage prep, not all the conversations you have will be a blast, but setting the right tone from the start can save years of strife down the line. Wishing you a long and happy marriage!