It all starts with that first glance. Then there is the amazing first date. Before you know it, you are meeting each other's parents, moving in together, and planning your futures. Then it becomes official, he got down on one knee (or as my Dad did it, asked over the phone) you said "yes" and are now wearing a beautiful ring on your left ring finger and a smile that stretches clear across your face. You are glowing... then your family and friends start asking you the who, what, where, when and how of the wedding you have either been planning since kindergarten or haven't thought about at all.
Either way, you are embarking on a relationship journey -- i.e. marriage -- that gets far less "publicity" than the wedding planning itself, though is exponentially more important. Your wedding lasts one day... or at most a whole weekend. Your marriage, alternatively, is supposed to last "till death do you part", which, based on the average age people are getting married and the average life expectancy in the US, will be close to five decades.
The process for planning your wedding can be overwhelming on multiple dimensions. It is the first time a lot of couples are really challenged to work together. You will be working through interesting family dynamics, differences in opinion, challenging communication periods and of course, stress. How you work together through the planning process may be indicative of how you will work together in your marriage, so start your marriage off on the right foot. If something isn't working, don't be afraid to discuss it and make the necessary changes. The wedding planning process is your marriage experiment -- take the time to establish your partnership system.
So, how can you do this? Well, here are a couple tips:
1. Start your wedding planning process by communicating. Ask your partner what is most important to him or her and share your "level of involvement" expectations. And, be honest. Most brides I've encountered say she wants her fiancé to help her make wedding related decisions. But 95 percent of the time, however, what she really wants is him to just agree with her decisions. Likewise, most grooms I know say they really don't care but when pushed a little harder, a lot of them actually have opinions about a couple specific things (if not the whole wedding). Learn upfront what the other person thinks, feels, and wants in regards to the wedding. It will make the journey a lot more fun and manageable.
2. Tackle family issues together. You may not always agree on the details, but it is important to display a united front to your family. Taking your parents' side against his parents' side may be the default you had when you were dating but won't get you very far after you're married. As an important side note, there is a very fine line between building family expectations and boundaries and burning familial bridges pre-wedding. Tread carefully and conscientiously; always weigh the advantages vs. the disadvantages. You don't want to start off your marriage on your partner's family's bad side.
3. Expect a certain amount of conflict and understand that it is normal. Every couple experiences conflict and arguing doesn't mean your marriage is doomed to fail. In fact, a certain amount of fighting can be healthy (depending on how you fight, that is.) According to The Knot, trying to create the guest list alone for your wedding results in, on average, over eight fights!
4. Remember to have real, non-wedding, conversations. During your engagement, things are fun, they are busy and they are generally happy. All of that is great, but be cognizant that sometimes, instead of talking color palettes and Do Not Playlists, you should talk about real things. Every book on marriage and relationships states that couples should discuss four things before getting hitched: 1) Religion, 2) Kids, 3) Money and 4) Sex. I would also add: Family Handlings, Holidays, and Household Expectations.
5. You and your partner are the only two people in your relationship. Your friends and family will offer you advice; books will give you roadmaps; therapists will give you expensive words of wisdom. While there is value in all of these, ultimately you and your partner need to come up with your own unique system of operating mutually and happily together. The more relationships I have observed the more obvious this all seems to me. There isn't a right or wrong way to go about it. Every couple has different tolerance levels for different issues. Take the time to find a system that works best for your relationship and you will be headed for marital success.
Remember, it's the journey that counts, not just the destination!