As soon as Google finds out you’re engaged, there’s virtually nowhere to hide. Within minutes of a proposal, any engaged woman is flooded with ads and emails pitching white dresses, intricate flower arrangements, and even wedding llamas.
Yes — you read that correctly. Wedding llamas. Brides magazine assures us that wedding llamas are here for “brides and grooms who want to make sure their wedding is the most talked about event of the year.” But what if the most remarkable part about your wedding is not the party (llamas optional), but the evident preparation you and your fiancé put into preparing for your future together?
I can promise you that when you’re standing at the altar, looking marriage straight in the eye, llamas will probably be the last thing you’ll want to have invested your time and energy in.
The truth is that a wedding day, however beautiful, is just one day. This means that putting work into preparing for a lifetime with your beloved may just be a better investment than pouring your energy into wedding planning. Here are four ways to profoundly prepare for life as a married couple.
Get comfortable with vulnerability
“To love is to be vulnerable,” wrote C.S. Lewis. His insight indicates what authentic, enduring love asks of us. Vulnerability allows someone worthy of your trust to hold your heart. Vulnerability is being forthcoming about your experiences, struggles, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and desires. Vulnerability is shedding light in those dark places that we all have — mistakes that we’ve made, bad habits, difficult seasons in our lives. Practicing vulnerability helps you prepare for the intimacy of marriage.
To get comfortable with vulnerability, be honest with your fiancé about your joys and struggles on a regular basis. Try picking a day to do a weekly check-in, and allow your beloved to be your accountability partner. Playing a tangible role in each other’s everyday life will build a firm foundation for talking about hurts, conflict, and expectations in a way that won’t leave you panicked and floundering.
Don’t shy away from the hard topics during engagement — I encourage you to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is the time to prepare to share absolutely everything with one another in a serious, intentional, and respectful way. There’s no place for fear in a lifelong commitment together.
Pour into life-giving habits
Marriage may be a profoundly beautiful sacrament, but it certainly won’t fix all of your problems. Instead, it will actually exacerbate problems that are creating cracks in your foundation. And when faced with a problem, it helps immensely to have some practical ways of managing stress and processing emotions. Sometimes it really does just come down to being hungry or tired.
Community is a big help — cultivate people and environments that nurture the best in you. Good community will also spur you on in habits that enrich and sustain you, body and soul. I can not overemphasize how helpful (and joyful!) it is to establish a prayer practice that fuels you, and to maintain good daily habits when it comes to nutrition and regular exercise.
Brainstorm habits that spark joy in you (thanks, Marie Kondo), and prioritize them! Life-giving practices can balance you and make you feel nourished, which might mean the difference between a calm, respectful conversation and a yell-fest with your fiancé.
Take time to heal and to learn
There is a saying that suffering that is not transformed will be transmitted. Wounds of any kind can easily overwhelm our hearts, minds, and bodies, and have consequences that spin out of control.
To transform instead of transmit your wounds, honestly assess where you need healing in mind, body, and soul. And give yourself permission to boldly seek that healing! This could look like taking a rest or a mental health day, calling up a friend, setting yourself up for success by getting that precious good night’s sleep, or booking an appointment with a therapist. Therapy can foster healing that is more efficient and healthy than healing you may be able to do alone.
What’s more, surrounding yourself with mentors and those who have loved you both through thick and thin can be a big support in the transition to married life. After all, you are taking on a new identity as a wife — your core identity is changing to accommodate another person. That’s a daunting process and it takes time to figure out who you are together. Who are your role models in selflessness, generosity, patience, hope, and trust? If you can find couples you admire who embody these virtues, you’ll better see tangible ways to reach for a persevering kind of love.
Act out of love and gratitude for others
I know that with all of the emotions and transitions engagement brings, it can be tempting to let Bridezilla tendencies take the driver’s seat — to act in ways that can be controlling and hurtful. I challenge you to tame the Bridezilla monster inside of you before it’s not so tiny anymore.
Instead, channel your energy into showing love and gratitude for your wedding party, dear friends, family, and soon-to-be in-laws. The effort you put into showing consideration and respect for loved ones during an exciting yet taxing time matters. And acting out of love for others’ unique strengths, weaknesses, time, and budgets fosters peace and joy for the long haul.
Being patient and generous with those near you during engagement helps the most significant relationships in your life to grow even stronger — rather than suffer — in the busy planning period. You want those relationships to be thriving and strong well beyond your wedding day. Gracefully stand up for what you and your fiancé are not willing to compromise on, and consciously try to be humble and kind about the rest!
Recently, I spent the day with a friend whom I consider a sister at this point. She said she still clearly remembers our wedding day being “unapologetically Sarah and Greg.” There were memorized vows and little kids running wild with hula hoops. There were bouquets made by best friends in their pajamas that morning, and thunderstorm rains that didn’t phase us. And above all else, she could see that we understood that everything — even the most thoughtful of details we put into our wedding day — pales in comparison to the promise we made to love each other in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, from that day forward.
Though we haven’t been married for very long, I can hardly count the number of times my husband and I have looked at each other and expressed how grateful we are that we chose our engagement as a time to prepare for a marriage and not just a day. It was a decision that set a solid foundation for us, a decision that continues to sustain us.