Feel-Good, Stay Sane Wedding Guide

Couples counselors offer their best advice for riding the wedding rollercoaster.

Anna Bowser

(Photo by Anna Bowser Photography)

Whether you get engaged in a quiet restaurant or on a mountaintop, the moment is just between the two of you. Once the news spreads and the intimacy of your engagement goes public, however, you quickly find yourself fielding questions like When? Where? and Can my cousin’s boyfriend bring his dog?

It can all feel a little overwhelming. But, our relationship experts say, it doesn’t have to be.

Sure, you’ll need a well-organized to-do list. But you’ll also benefit from some emotional know-how to keep teamwork on track and communication flowing between family, friends, and fiancés. We asked several Virginia couples counselors for advice on navigating the wedding-planning process. Their pointers on dividing tasks, setting realistic goals, and defining healthy boundaries will help you plan a celebration you’ll cherish while managing the inevitable twists and turns along the way.

(Illustration by Adam Larkum)

Remember, you’re playing the long game.

Although planning your big day is exciting, it’s easy to get swept up in the details. To stay grounded, check in with your partner at regular intervals to keep communication lines open. “When the stress of wedding planning starts to happen, couples should remind each other to keep things in perspective,” suggests Brian Mayer, owner of Brian Mayer, LCSW Counseling Services in Richmond.

Although you want your wedding day to be a fabulous celebration of your love, it’s one day. You have the rest of your lives to focus on, too. “A beautiful wedding and reception lasts a few hours, while a loving relationship will last for decades,” reminds Mayer. Having a long-term perspective can help you and your significant other stay focused on what truly matters.

Realize it’s normal for one partner to take the lead.

Chances are, one partner will emerge as the lead planner. Yes, you’ll want to make big decisions together, but if one partner shoulders more responsibility, that’s okay. “It is common for one person to take the lead in the planning process,” says Mayer. “To avoid stress, they should have conversations with each other early in the process around responsibilities.”

Divide duties up based on your interests. Maybe one partner loves budgeting and organizing, while the other has a knack for food, flowers, and decorations. Use those bents to your advantage. “There will be some tasks that the less engaged partner would be willing to do,” says Mayer. “Find out what those are, then the more engaged partner should take a step back from those.” No matter your role, allocating responsibilities will reduce the likelihood of conflict.

Talk about things other than wedding planning.

You fell in love with each other for a reason. Whether it was her smile or his gut-busting jokes, you were a couple long before the planning process began. Keep it that way. Reconnect with each other and don’t limit conversation to the big day. “As much fun as it can be to plan a wedding, make sure you continue to invest in yourself and your relationship during this time, and don’t let the wedding planning become your sole focus,” advises Lindsey M. Hoskins, Ph.D., LMFT, and the owner of Lindsey Hoskins & Associates in Sterling.

Try to keep your life and interactions as normal as possible, and that includes hanging out with others. “Spend time with friends and loved ones doing non-wedding-related activities, go on dates together, and continue to pursue hobbies, exercise, etc.,” Hoskins emphasizes. She also notes that focusing on each other provides a soft landing after the special day. If you only talk and think about the wedding, there can be a big letdown once the party’s over.

Set boundaries on who can weigh in on your plans.

Everyone from your aunt who wed 30 years ago to your sister-in-law who got married last year will want to give you advice for your big day. While some advice may be welcome, too much can feel meddlesome. “It is important—but not easy—to establish boundaries with others early in the process around what the couple’s wishes are. After all, this is their day,” says Mayer.

Hoskins agrees that the earlier you set those limits, the better. “It is easy for other voices to muddy the waters when making decisions, especially for those from large or opinionated families,” she says. Her advice? “Try to envision yourselves as you experience your wedding day, and think about what is going to help you create meaningful connection and memories together.” In short, realize that the day is about you and the one you love.

Stay on task—and budget.

Right now, your head may be spinning with inspiring ideas from Pinterest, blogs, and glossy magazines. Hoskins reminds us that the wedding industry itself can get overwhelming, and budgets can quickly feel strained. “I’ve seen many couples deal with tension and conflict after their wedding day because they have overextended themselves financially,” she says.

The best way to combat this is to talk openly about your finances and stick with a plan once you set it. “Think carefully about what you can spend on your wedding, agree on a budget that is comfortable for both partners, and then get creative about staying within that budget,” advises Hoskins. “Starting your marriage off on solid financial footing pays dividends over the longterm.” But, again, it’s one event—not something that should cause extreme debt.

Your wedding day will bring joy as family and friends witness your commitment to the one you love. By focusing on each other and your future together, you’ll concentrate on what truly matters. “The most important thing to remember is that a wedding should represent the two people getting married and what makes them feel happy and connected,” says Hoskins. Incorporate what’s essential to you as a couple on your big day, get married, and then enjoy a wonderful life together.

(Illustration by Adam Larkum)

This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue.

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