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The wedding planning process includes finding the perfect dress, landing the perfect reception hall, making sure you’ve got the right flowers, food, cake, music, wedding party, DJ, photographer, centerpieces, invitations, ceremony, rings, shoes and more. While there is no doubt that there is value in celebrating such a sacred day, is it possible that in our celebration- sometimes we miss the focus?
When it comes to wedding planning, there is a tendency to focus on the minor details while neglecting the main point; planning the wedding, while neglecting to plan the marriage. Far beyond planning the particulars of a wedding day, the time of engagement is a really sacred time. It’s a chance to get to the bottom of who you are and reflect on the person you want to become. It’s an opportunity to connect with and continue getting to know the heart of the precious partner God has placed in your life. It’s a time to begin working, preparing and planning for the marriage you hope to build.
As you reflect on some of the most important aspects of planning a marriage, here are some must-have conversations before you walk down the aisle:
1. The Past
When it comes to planning for a marriage it’s crucial to talk about your past, because the past has a role in shaping the present. Whether your past is tainted with pain, or filled with hope- you need to get real with where you come from. Past relationships, family history, and significant experiences (both positive and negative) that have shaped you are just some of the things that need to be discussed as you look back- so that you can join together in moving forward.
What role will your family play in your life once you are married? How will visits, holidays, and special occasions impact your relationship with one another? Will you start your own traditions, or continue those of your family of origin? What role will our family have when it comes to our life and decision making? Combining two people from two separate families into one is something that many people take lightly. But it’s a topic that can cause much strain and stress if not tackled in part before you say I do.
Our views of sex and sexuality are shaped long before we commit to marriage. It’s crucial to get comfortable with this topic of conversation, because it’s one that you’ll carry on for the rest of your married life. What are your views of sex, and how have they been shaped? What is your past sexual history and how might that impact your relationship? What expectations do you have and are you on the same page? Understanding your sexual views and knowing your partner’s is a valuable part of preparing for intimacy.
I get a lot of questions from people wondering when is the right time to share “secrets”- the parts of your life that you rarely share with others. There is no better time to share these intimate things than now, as you look ahead at marriage. From family secrets, to personal choices, from health problems to mental health concerns, this is the time to share things big and small, paving the way for honesty and openness as the foundation of your relationship.
Because expectations are such a deep-seated part of who we are, we don’t often think about them. But talking about these things gives us a chance to bring them to the surface in a constructive way. What are your views on work, family, and marriage roles? How will you accomplish the cooking, the cleaning and the chores? This is just skimming the surface of the things we may expect going into marriage, and it’s an important conversation to have.
It’s amazing how such a seemingly benign topic before marriage, can become such a trigger after. Too many couples get caught in the trap of financial stress and struggles because they didn’t take the time to discuss the finances How do you feel about combining money? What are your spending habits? Do you have any debt and how are you going to pay it off? What are your views on saving, tithing, and giving? Getting on the same page when it comes to money will save you so much strain as you soon become one.
When it comes to genuine faith, it’s a part of you that should be oozing out of your life long before marriage. But just as important as it is to retain our individual relationship with God, it’s important to connect in our faith experiences as we look toward marriage. Discussions about prayer life, reading God’s word, spiritual roles, theological beliefs, and denominational preferences are all things that need to be considered and discussed as you move forward.
Above and beyond dreaming about baby names, there is so much more to the topic of family planning before marriage. How many children do you hope to have? What happens if you aren’t able to get pregnant? How were you parented, and what are your personal views on parenting? Who will take care of the children, and what are your views on day-care, schooling, and the like. There are many important aspects to this topic that would be beneficial to take the time to discuss and work through.
Essentially, boundaries are your views on what is okay and what is not okay when it comes to your relationship and marriage. What do boundaries look like with friends of the opposite sex, past boyfriends/girlfriends, and even family members. How will we protect our time, guard our emotions, and prevent our bodies from negative interactions with others?
One thing I know about marriage, is that it magnifies everything. Your strengths…and your weaknesses. Before you enter the pressure-cooker of marriage, you need to get real with your bad-habits and hang-ups here and now. Do you have a tendency to express anger through rage? Do you struggle with any addictive behaviors? Are there any areas in your life that you need to expose and address before you move forward toward marriage? Take the time to talk frankly and honestly about your struggles, and make the time to work toward hope and healing.
The season before marriage is a rich and joyous time in a couple’s life. Don’t allow the pressure of creating the “perfect wedding” to keep you from focusing on what really matters. Plan your wedding, but most importantly, plan your marriage- because a healthy marriage is something worth truly celebrating.
Debra K. Fileta is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Relationship and Marital issues. She, her husband and two children live in Hershey, PA. She is the author of the new book True Love Dates (Zondervan, 2013), challenging young men and women to do dating in a way that is psychologically sound, emotionally healthy and spiritually grounded. Visit www.truelovedates.com and follow her on Twitter to get your dating questions answered and to learn more.