From the time you get engaged to your big day, with every decision you make and hurdle you overcome, you're putting all kinds of wisdom into play. Along the way, you're also fine-tuning skills that can help build a successful marriage, such as sticking to a budget, navigating family politics and knowing when to take a de-stressing break from it all.
Apply these learning experiences from your wedding-planning journey to your future together:
1. Don't let money fights tear you apart.
Disagreements over finances can strain even the happiest of marriages. According to a study by The National Survey of Families and Households, couples who disagree about money once a week are 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who report fighting about finances a few times each month. In order to protect your marriage and live with far less stress about those credit card bills, take your family budget seriously and be patient for those big things that you want, whether it's a new car or maybe even a baby.
If you went over-budget for your wedding (many couples do!) make it a goal to live within your means now. Start by recording everything you spend over the course of a month — and we do mean everything — in an easy program like Quicken or Mint.com. Next, see what you can take a break from or scale back on, like going out to eat two times a month instead of six. Aim for painless cutbacks that add up to big savings and help you pay your bills more easily. Even little things like choosing affordable cuts of meat when grocery shopping and filtering water from the tap instead of buying water bottle cases can add up to big savings.
As you may have already learned with unexpected wedding expenses, it's also crucial to have an emergency fund, especially if you own a house or car that could need pricey repairs.
2. Make time for your other favorite people — they helped make you who you are.
During the wedding-planning process, you likely involved your parents and siblings somehow, whether it was inviting them to your gown-shopping appointment, honoring your family history with a photo table, or other thoughtful gestures. During your marriage, make a plan to connect with both of your families — immediate families and extended families — on a regular basis.
If you live far away from them, set up a Sunday Skype date and send thoughtful emails or texts just to see how they're doing. Share family traditions with your spouse: holiday traditions, recipes, great stories, visits to your families' favorite places and other insights into your family life before this new life you're sharing.
And let go of family drama — just like a squabble over the budget or guest list may have stressed you out, family dramas can also create tension in your marriage. Stay out of the fray, forgive what you can and don't get sucked into attention-seeking ploys. Learn how to let things go and embrace the happier, more positive people in your life, whoever they may be.
3. Gratitude is essential to leading a happy life!
Just like you sent thank-you notes for gifts you received and to loved ones who helped you with wedding projects, it's just as important to say “thank you” to anyone who adds light and laugher to your world during your marriage. It might be for a dinner your parents took you to, the wheelbarrow your neighbor lent you when you were putting in your garden or anything sweet your husband does for you. Everyone wants to feel that they are appreciated.
Keep a gratitude journal in which you record five things that made you happy that day, whether it's a phone call from a friend, the way your husband smiled at you that morning or the smell of really good coffee. This will ensure that your mindset stays balanced even during challenging days so that you don't spin out into negative thoughts, only seeing the bad because you've lost sight of all the good things in your life. It makes you a happier person to be around, which is contagious!
4. The couple that plays together, stays together.
One of the biggest wishes among brides and grooms planning their weddings is that the entire event be a ton of fun. A great band or deejay. Interactive food stations. Photo booths. Weddings are fun experiences for guests and unforgettable celebrations that show how fun you two are.
Make your marriage stronger by incorporating lots of play, inside jokes, and new activities, as well as making time for the things you already love to do together. Burnout occurs when couples are all work and no play, so make the pursuit of pleasure an important part of your everyday life.
5. Honor each other’s boundaries.
One “no” = no. If your groom originally wanted a pig roast rehearsal dinner but you wanted a more formal event, your “no” meant no. If you wanted a harpist at your ceremony but your groom didn't, then that didn't happen. The same goes for any plan that either of you wants for your married life. If you want to move to a particular town but your husband is against it, that's a no. If he wants an outdoor bar on your terrace but you don't want your home to become his buddies' makeshift pub, that's a no.
Make this a rule and you'll get rid of (most) battles in your marriage. It's not just the “no” in play here…it's take the time to listen to each other, to prioritize, to communicate what you want your life to feel like, so that each of you understands why the other feels the way that they do. Then you can make decisions that honor your partner's comfort level and values.
It's all about teamwork in a happy marriage, which comes from compromise and from balancing out what each of you wants. Neither of you is The Boss — resentments can boil over when one partner feels like they're getting overruled all the time. Mix up the decision-making and come to an agreement that neither of you should have to do something you feel strongly against or uncomfortable with.
6. Stay flexible and safeguard your happiness by putting a Plan B into place.
Smart wedding planning involves having a back-up plan that you’ll be equally happy with: an indoor space for the ceremony in case it rains or an alternative bouquet in case your floral designer can't get an out-of-season bloom. In your marriage, don't get so hung up on that one big wish to the extent that you're absolutely devastated if it doesn't work out, or else you'll suffer disappointment, anger and stress if anything goes wrong with your original plan.
When you're too attached to an outcome and having things go according to your timetable, you're a bridezilla without being the bride anymore. For instance, let's say you wanted to paint your bedroom this weekend but the painting company called to say their crew can't make it until two weeks from now, or you wanted to have a 4th of July party but you've been called away on business. If you flip out, your spouse might get turned off by your over-the-top reaction, but if you have a Plan B — a different painting weekend or a barbecue in August instead — you'll both be much happier and your spouse won't look at you “like that.” It's not about what happens to us; it's how we bounce back.
7. Nobody wins when you try to keep up with the Joneses.
Even if your best friend had a $100,000 wedding and yours was just a tiny fraction of that, it doesn't mean that your wedding was any less awesome or special. Although it's perfectly natural to be envious from time to time, it's not worth acting on by trying to outcompete or match what someone else has. That just shows that you're unhappy with what you do have, and with what you or your partner can provide now. Ouch!
The same goes for the home you choose to live in, the furniture you buy, the car you drive and so on. No one wants to feel like they're not doing well enough in life and if you're always miserable that you can't afford to have a massive house/engagement ring/wardrobe like your friend, acquaintance, coworker, or whomever, then your spouse can take it personally, as a judgment that he's not making enough money or doesn't want you to have nice things. And you'll also suffer from your feelings of not measuring up, which may impact your relationship with the person you're jealous of and many other negative things can spiral from there.
Let the Joneses be the Joneses and you live your wonderful life filled with beautiful people and your own special touches to the things you do have. How do you tame that green-eyed monster? Again, we’re back to #3: gratitude makes life fabulous!
8. The people you hire had better be good.
You put a lot of time and thought into researching, interviewing and hiring the best wedding photographer, florist, band/DJ or other pros for your big day. The same goes for hiring real estate agents, doctors, contractors, plumbers…the experts you can't afford to entrust your home (or your life) to without fully investigating them and investing in the best.
You know that when you hire someone without doing due diligence, you're more likely to get crummy service and bad results. You don't want that with your plumbing or your health.
9. Every now and then, get away from it all and get back to being “you.”
When stress builds up, it’s not pretty. You may find yourself snapping over minor things, sleeping poorly, overeating, skipping workouts, breaking out…stress is bad news for you and for everyone who loves you. Every now and then, make time to go on a vacation as part of your “happy me, happy us” plan. And even if you can't get away because of budget or time, find ways to switch up your scenery like checking out shops in a nearby town or going for a hike.
Whether you revisit your honeymoon resort, check into a quaint bed and breakfast a few hours away or even just take a day trip somewhere, the important thing is to recognize when you and your spouse are overworked from the daily grind. Escaping your to-do list and unplugging for a few hours/days will dial down your stress levels and make you better partners.
Photo Credit: Caneel Bay Resort
10. Be present – it all goes by too fast.
The wedding day passes by so quickly — one minute you're slipping that ring on your groom's finger and the next minute, the band is announcing that this is the last song of the night. You didn't even get to eat very much of your wedding menu! In your marriage, as in your wedding, make sure you stop, look around, and take in every detail (every smiling face and beautiful thing around you).
Be fully present and you won't look back on your life saying, “There's so much I didn't take the time to appreciate and enjoy.” Enjoy every moment to the fullest.
Sharon Naylor is the best-selling author of over 35 wedding books, including Home from the Honeymoon: The Newlyweds' Guide to the Celebrations and Challenges of the First Year of Marriage.
Visit sharonnaylor.net for more great tips and advice.