I planned for my wedding day with the utmost care to every detail. After all, like many young girls, I’d dreamt of that day for years. I was all of ten when I began designing my wedding dress—a gown my mother sewed with silk-covered buttons, a lace bodice, and a skirt Cinderella herself would have envied.
The cake was gorgeous, with shiny, ribbon-like bows of hard taffy encircling each layer. Even my husband-to-be approved of the cake, since it was chocolate inside (although convincing me to pick that flavor didn’t take much on his part). The deep red I chose as the main wedding color proved to be elegant next to the white of my gown and the black tuxedos.
Like so many brides with stars in their eyes, I was young and naïve. While my husband and I are now preparing to celebrate sixteen years since the day we knelt across the altar, I think back and wonder if we could have gotten a better start if we had prepared for our marriage as much as we prepared for the wedding—because while the wedding day is certainly important and memorable, it’s just the first day of the rest of a bride and groom’s journey together.
What really matters is the time and all eternity that follows. Any time two people join together to form a new unit, there will be some level of change, compromise, and even, at times, unease. If there is never any kind disagreement (not necessarily a fight, but if there’s never a difference of opinion, then one party is dominating the other, and that, too, is unhealthy).
When preparing for marriage, an engaged couple might do well to consider sitting down together and going over some basic questions regarding expectations. Use the list below as a jumping off point. Know that it’s not an exhaustive list, just a place to kick-start the process and give you ideas of the types of things that might be important to you and might need discussing.
Remember: what one person sees as the “obvious” or “normal” way of doing things maybe totally foreign to the other. You’re both coming from different worlds, both of which seem perfectly natural . . . to you.
One of you may assume that a certain spouse will take care of the finances, another childcare. That household duties will be split a certain way. That holiday traditions will go like this or be spent at specific in-laws’ houses, and so on. Meanwhile, the other person will have completely different ideas.
Discussing such issues before marriage will prevent many surprises and help both sides work out compromises beforehand, instead of ending up with argument and hurt feelings when expectations are suddenly dashed months—or even years—into the marriage. Granted, there will be surprises and compromise; you can’t anticipate every possible unknown going in. But trying to be prepared for the marriage as well as the wedding can help.
- Who will be responsible for housework? Will it be split up? If so, how?
- How will we budget? Who will pay the bills and balance the checkbook (or will we do them together)? When?
- What is each of our philosophies about debt? Will either partner be bringing previous debt into the marriage? What do we think is okay to go into debt for? What is each of our strategies for paying off debt versus putting aside money into savings?
- Will Mom stay home from work after we have children? What about after the children go to school? How involved will Dad be when he is home? (Define “involved” as best as you can. Does it mean changing diapers? Coaching soccer? Reading books? Singing lullabies?)
- How often will we have “dates”? What will we do on them and how much will they cost?
- What about travel as a couple? Travel as a family? How often? What kinds of trips and how expensive is okay? How do we pay for them?
- What can we spend on gifts for one another for special occasions? Do some occasions warrant bigger gifts than others (birthdays and Christmas versus Valentines, for example)? What is our budget for each?
- How many children will we have? How close together/far apart? Is this something we can negotiate?
- How will we split the holidays between our families? Will we reach a point of having some holidays with just our family? How will we make that transition?
- Where will we live? Are there places either of us refuse to live? Are there places one of us is eager to stay or move to?
- What educational plans does each of us have? Does either of us want to get more education now or later? How will it be paid for? What are our goals?
- How often will we plan to attend the temple? (This may largely depend on where you live.)
- How important to us and how regularly will we have things like individual/personal/family scripture study and prayer? When we have older children, will we have early morning scripture study?
- How will we discipline our children?
- What are our expectations for our children? (Grades, Scouting, Young Women Recognition, employment, driver’s licenses, missions, college, extra-curricular, etc.
The list could go on and on, and some of the answers may even change over time as the marriage progresses. As engaged couples discuss these types of issues, not every point needs to be brought up in one sitting, and many questions may not have clear answers yet. That’s fine; at least the list can get you thinking about the topics and establish a pattern for communication. For that matter, discussing one at a time might be wise so you can really get into the other’s way of seeing things, try to understand them, and find ways to blend two worldviews into one new—united—life.
While I’d never tell a bride to ignore her bouquet, the bridesmaids’ dresses, or any other part of the big day, I’d also remind her that while yes, the day circled on the calendar is an end—it's just the end of her life walking the path alone.
But it also marks the beginning of a brand new journey—one she’ll take in tandem with her eternal companion.