When my three daughters were young, I tried to bribe them. "I'll give you some money if you'll just run away somewhere to get married and not have a reception."
Call me crazy, but I've never wanted to put on a production just to see a daughter turn into a Bridezilla, or have so much extra stress in my life that I collapse headfirst into the punch bowl. More than one familial relationship has been ruined over who was or was not invited to a wedding, or if lobster or meatballs was the main dish.
I also never liked the fact that extravagant weddings seem to turn the focus to the event rather than nurturing the couples' tender relationship. A wedding is the starting point of a beautiful journey, and sets the stage for what kind of life a couple will have together. If the wedding is lavish, but after-honeymoon life is modest, couples can often experience the post-wedding blues.
Columnist James Sherman said, "Post-wedding letdown is one of many factors explaining the U.S. Bureau of the Census showing that the highest rates of divorce occur during the first three years of marriage." It's kind of like buying tons of expensive toys for your children for Christmas, and once they have been ripped open, you receive a disappointed "That's it?"
One of my daughters is engaged now, so we're in the thick of weddings plans. Just for the record, we are going to have a reception (I was only half serious about the bribing). This is the advice I have given her so that the blues don't set in once life is more back to normal.
There's a whole out-of-control wedding industry out there. Anyone who has watched the movie "Father of the Bride" has seen proof. Yes, Martin Short as Franck Eggelhoffer, the wedding planner, is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much! The business is to sell, but you don't have to buy. Don't feel pressured to have what your girlfriends or mother or the bridal magazine tells you that you must have in order to have the perfect day. Nothing is perfect, including a wedding day. So stay in control and don't be swept away by the hype and emotions of the event.
Realizing the wedding day is a reflection of life, and that neither will be perfect is one way to manage your expectations. Another is to embrace the life skill of budgeting. Sadly, many of the couples who do not make or keep to a wedding budget also do not make sound financial decisions and practice financial restraint in their married life. A Gallup poll reported that two-thirds of American couples do not use a budget. Planning a wedding is a good place to start talking about money, finances and budgeting. If engaged couples are wise with their resources and learn to say "no" to unnecessary wedding expenditures, they are in a much better position to succeed in after-wedding life. Whether your wedding march was played on CD or performed by the New York Philharmonic, you are still happily married at the end of the day.
3. Go to premarital counseling
Take a premarital online assessment or see a counselor. These resources help couples discuss issues they usually avoid, but will face sooner than later. We are required to take history, math, science and English in school. How ironic (and sad!) that virtually all young adults who will likely be in a romantic relationship are not formally taught how to succeed in relationships.
Couples who take premarital courses or inventories fare better, according to Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Take advantage of the engagement period by seeking excellent resources to enhance your understanding of one another and strengthen your marriage.
4. Focus on others, including your fiancé
In other words, don't make it all about you. How much of your time is consumed by thoughts of THE DRESS or THE RING or THE HAIR? Obviously, it is fine to want to look beautiful on your wedding day. But if you are self-obsessing, you might find something in common with the Greek god Narcissus, who was so in love with himself, he could not stop looking at his reflection in a pool and eventually drowned. Rather than drowning in drama, enrich your pre-marriage period by doing service for others and listening to a friend in need. The real measure of beauty and grace, including for a bride, is goodness within and concern for others.
JULIE K. NELSON is a mother, wife, professor, author of "Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood" and "Parenting With Spiritual Power," and is a contributor on radio and TV. Her website is www.aspoonfulofparenting.com.