This Is Why Wedding Planning Is Important

outdoor wedding ceremony

Me, to my husband, Adam: “You know how we spent so long planning our wedding and wanted it to be really meaningful and I spent all that time making all the decorations? Don’t you think our wedding day really laid a foundation for our marriage and affected our marriage as it stands today, almost three years later?”

Adam: “Our wedding day had nothing to do with our marriage.”

Me: “Huh.”

His brashness caught me off guard. At first, I was a little miffed. I worked for months and months on designing our wedding and crafting the invites and the programs and the decorations. We filled out booklets and discussed our feelings in hours of pre-marital counseling. We spent weekends driving the two hours from our apartment in Brooklyn to the wedding location in Pennsylvania to iron out details. Our wedding day was so much freakin’ fun. We were married in a little suburban church and had the reception in a traditional reception hall. All of our loved ones were there, two of which, my father and grandfather, are no longer with us today. We kissed and laughed and danced. It was the best day ever, and he was saying it has NOTHING to do with our marriage!?!


He was right. I mean, he IS right. (Babe, are you reading this? I just told The Internet that you are right. Where it lives on in eternity.)

Our wedding day had nothing to do with our marriage. Ok, besides the fact that we got married that day and took vows under God to support and love each other unconditionally until the day we die, the wedding day was not a foundation for our marriage. Our marriage doesn’t care what color the bridesmaids’ dresses were. It doesn’t care that our reception was in a super traditional reception hall and not an indie, artsy venue. Our marriage says f*ck it that we didn’t write our own vows but instead used the pre-written ones our Pastor gave us. Our marriage could give a rat’s ass about the heartfelt thank-you letter we wrote on our wedding programs.

It was the months leading up the wedding where the start of our marriage was the most affected. The process is where the real foundation started to build itself. It was in the planning where we learned skills on how to work with each other towards a common goal. Those months were when we first had to manage a budget together, when we had to make decisions with level heads, and when we both had to learn how to compromise without feeling like we lost the battle.

In October, Adam and I will celebrate our third anniversary. If three years ago we married at a country club and I wore Vera Wang, October 24th will still be our anniversary. If we went to the courthouse with only our parents, October 24th will still be our anniversary. If we had decided to fly everyone to Jamaica and tie the knot barefoot on the beach, our marriage would still be what it is today.

My wedding day was one of the best days of my life to date, but it wasn’t that one span of twenty-four hours that laid a foundation for my marriage. I mean, really? If I could get fired up for a hot second, and I’m sure people will disagree with me—heck, I disagreed with myself before Adam lit the light bulb in my brain—a wedding day, as meaningful and beautiful as they come, will not put a magic marriage spell over the couple. Honestly, I don’t remember the exact wording of our vows. I don’t remember what our Pastor spoke about. What I do remember is seeing everyone I love all in one room at one time. I remember my dad, who passed away two weeks before our first anniversary, doing the chicken dance. I remember most of what we discussed in pre-marital counseling and I remember the (painful) feeling of my first real compromise by agreeing to not see each other before the ceremony. I truly believe that wedding days are for partying and planning a wedding is for growing.  Maybe that’s why planning a wedding is sometimes so, so painful? It’s just growing pains. Wedding days are for promising love and commitment to another person out loud in a public setting, whether religious or secular, then dancing your face off in celebration. People have had deeply moving weddings, and then crappy marriages. They’ve exchanged vows in Vegas and are now a great example of a strong, healthy marriage.

It’s the process that we should be paying more attention to. The time between “Will you marry me?” and “I do” is where a couple can build that foundation and affect their marriage. For Adam and me, that’s where it started.

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  • Alicai

    Awesome post. As a freshly married woman (5 days married) I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Our wedding was AWESOME. We had so much fun with friends and family, but I think the planning process taught us so much more about how we work well together under pressure and how we deal with stress.

    Congrats on staying so level-headed!

    • Congratulations!!!!

    • DanEllie

      You and me both Alicai! Yay for Memorial Day weekend weddings, and a partner to plan the events, both big and small. We took it on together, and ended up compromising and finding the right middle-ground for us. There are things I could have cared less about, but he was really invested in, that I’m so glad we did (dance lessons and a song in our ceremony) and he loved the flowers I arranged and the maple candy table cards. He’s seen me in stress and in fountaining joy, and I’ve done the same with him. Can’t wait to see how it keeps unfolding :)

  • I love this. My husband (of two years come October!) and I have been talking about this very topic lately, especially as it relates to the amount of time and money people spend preparing for their weddings. See, we got married in our backyard for about $2000 bucks in front of God and 130 of our friends and family. Oh, and we got officially engaged 6 weeks before the wedding (although obviously we’d talked that over beforehand).

    We’ve come up with this little theory that the more time and money people spend on their weddings, the less time and effort they might be putting into building their actual marriages. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to spend lots of time and energy planning your wedding, it’s just that it should be a joint effort, exactly as Michelle writes. My wedding day was awesome and beautiful and everything I hoped it would be. Do I still drag out the pictures once in a while to drool over them? Of course. But did it “form” my marriage or “give us a great foundation” or anything like that? Nope. That started long before the wedding day and it’s still happening now.

    • I’d love to hear more about how you planned your wedding! It sounds so much fun and just what me and my bf want. Did you self-cater?

      • It was a blast! We did self-cater, although we did it relatively sanely (I think) – my husband is killer at smoking meat, so the day before the wedding he smoked up a ridiculous amount of bbq ribs. The morning of the wedding we cooked up lots of frozen pierogues (he’s Polish), steamed frozen veggies, and baked pre-made dishes of mac and cheese. My friends and family made a bunch of pies for dessert and my cousin made us a beautiful wedding cake. I was working at a restaurant at the time and hired three of my co-workers to be in charge of heating up the food before we were ready to eat and of serving it into dishes that each table could pass family-style. It was really low-stress for us (although I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like to cook), much cheaper than getting a caterer and really yummy. Contact me at my blog if you have more questions!

        • P.S. there are pictures of our wedding on my blog (click on my username above) in Oct-Dec 2010 if you want to check it out!

        • Thanks for all the info! We’re self catering (we both love to cook and host parties, plus food in this area is so expensive we couldn’t afford to do otherwise) and our plan is similar to yours so it really helps. Plus our wedding will only be 50-60 people so I think that’s manageable haha. I’ll definitely have to check your blog!

          • Contessa

            I’ve been a caterer for 12 years and no one will let me self-cater!! This is one of the most frustrating bits of the wedding planning. I know I could do all of the things we are paying someone else to do and I know it won’t be done the way I would have done it :) (Control freak much??)

    • Carbon Girl

      I would be careful about making any generalizations “We’ve come up with this little theory that the more time and money people spend on their weddings, the less time and effort they might be putting into building their actual marriages.”

      That one sounds awfully close to the tired trope of “the more expensive the wedding, the shorter the marriage.”

      The quality of a marriage has nothing to do with time or money, only with how a couple approaches their partnership with each other.

    • meg

      Ok, I don’t think this is fair (particularly to other readers), “We’ve come up with this little theory that the more time and money people spend on their weddings, the less time and effort they might be putting into building their actual marriages.” While it’s important to validate our own experiences, it’s very important within APW to do that in a way that doesn’t de-value others experiences.

      We spent plenty of both time (18 months!) and money planning our wedding, and we also put a ton of effort into our marriage. Also, my wedding DID form my marriage, and gave us a great foundation. My experience is different from yours and Michelle’s and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. I don’t want anyone else who’s spending time and money on their wedding to feel shamed for it, nor do I want people who’s wedding was monumental for them to feel badly. All you can do is what’s right for you!

      • It wasn’t at all my intention to devalue anyone’s experience, and I’m sorry that my comment came off as it did. I only meant that it’s easy to obsess so much over the details of the wedding day that you forget what it’s really about. I love the APW community and have been following since I was pre-engaged. Never meant to offend!

  • Jessica

    I don’t have much to say except, Exactly! I agree 1000%! Weddings are fun, they are a way for family and friends (if you so choose) to celebrate your union and a great excuse to throw a fun party and have all your loved ones in one spot. But one day is NOT indicative of your marriage. Such a great post!

  • I have to agree. We had two very different, very fun, and very fabulous (in their own unique way) weddings, and while they were wonderful and important in their way, neither event had much to do with the marriage that we have. However, there were many things within the prep for those two events that had a lot to do with our marriage. The way we handled the money discussions and spending was very relevant to current discussions we have about big family investments. The way we dug in and completed wedding projects was very reflective of our general approach to projects within our marriage (i.e. I tend to direct content, while he handles operations and finance. I tend to “get on it” and he chimes in later with important feedback, detailing and support). While I did much of the heavy creative lifting for our wedding, in the end, Brian was a steadfast workhorse. And when I was a completely useless wreck of joy and emotion the day afterwards, he was AMAZING the way he dug deep and kept our train moving throught the practicalities. While I get caught up in the roller coaster of creative vision, he keeps me anchored with his love and is my touchstone and rock. All of that? Well… that’s pretty much our marriage.

  • I totally agree– weddings are very important, to be sure, but planning our wedding was what really helped us grow! Thanks for sharing this. :)

  • Contessa

    The planning is definitely a hint of what the marriage could be. I learned a lot about my fiance during the process and a lot about me that wasn’t pretty and needs to be stuffed back a bit.

    I don’t agree with the generalization (not that you were making one) that the more time and money are spent on the wedding the less people care about the marriage BUT in my time in Manhattan wedding catering I saw an awful lot of 100K weddings where the bride and groom didn’t seem to have a visible connection and I’ve been to a lot of church basement receptions where the couple was fit to burst from happiness.

    • Thanks for this. I was just thinking that some of what I am learning is how obnoxious I can be, haha. Uh oh. But using that as a LEARNING opportunity and a chance to work on that is a much nicer way to think of it than using it as some kind of marriage forecaster.

  • NF

    Not sure about this. 2 years out I have maybe 2 memories of the reception, but I still remember almost every single moment of the ceremony and how I was feeling at those moments.

    Planning the wedding was important too, it gave us a lot of time to figure out our joint (instead of individual) values, forced us to confront really challenging religious differences, and balance planning.

    But we planned our wedding (especially the ceremony) to reflect what was important to us in our life together. We included family (honestly maybe excessively), we followed religious tradition but with a lot of flexibility… In that way, the wedding itself DID set (or at least reflect) a foundation for our marriage.

    So, the party part probably doesn’t matter in the long run. But the ceremony can be really important in the long run, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    • meg

      Oh! I don’t think this post is about generalizations. My wedding DID shape my marriage, totally and completely. Much like Hannah on Monday, it rubbed my soul raw and changed me forever. But it doesn’t do that for everyone, and I think it’s compelling and important to share a ton of viewpoints without claiming that there is a one sized fits all answer for everyone.

      • NF

        I agree that the post wasn’t about generalizations (although a couple lines at first read felt that way). I was just trying to share my experience since as of when I posted nobody else had shared that particular experience, and some comments WERE generalizations.

        • meg

          Ha! It’s funny, because we’ve spent years on APW talking about the life changing part of weddings (particularly my experience). So there are a bazillion posts on weddings changing your life (like Mondays post!) for those of you who are like me. That said, the planning was damn important for me too, just in a really different way.

          • NF

            I suppose I should have said “nobody had commented in this thread about that particular experience”. I love the posts on APW about weddings being life-changing and I love that you’ve included this post from a different perspective. I just wanted my perspective to be included in this comment thread.

  • Marina

    A million times yes. I will say to anybody, any day, that my wedding was a foundational moment for my marriage… and what I mean is that the wedding and everything leading up to it was the foundation for my marriage. The wedding itself was kind of like a graduation ceremony… you can point to it and say, “This is when I got my degree.” But that’s not really where you got your degree… you got your degree in classrooms and study groups and libraries in the months and years before the graduation ceremony.

    • A graduation ceremony. YES. Exactly. Our ceremony was very meaningful and lovely, and the process of discussing what was important to both of us to have in ceremony were moments when we learned a lot about each other and our relationship. It was the process that built the wedding.

      • Jessica

        My fiance and I were just talking about our wedding in these exact terms, as a “graduation ceremony”. It’s much easier for me to process all the emotions that are coming up for us in relation to the wedding if I keep that analogy in mind and think back to how I was able to transition to new life stages after my various graduations.

        • H

          OMG. Perfect analogy. Graduation ceremony. Yes. I like it, and it’s really helpful, considering how I’ve responded to graduations in the past in envisioning how I’d respond to actually being married. Brilliant.

    • one soul

      I always thought that was why we were called wedding graduates. ;)

      • meg

        AND correct. (But you’ve been reading a long time, though not back when I invented the term for that reason ;)

        • one soul

          Ha! I’ve been reading a LOT longer than I’ve been commenting.

    • DNA

      I’m working on my dissertation and planning a wedding at the same time, and I couldn’t agree more. The day I receive my PhD in my fancy-shmancy robes will probably not be the most important moment of my scientific career, just like the day my partner and I get married in fancy-schmancy clothes will probably not be the most important moment of our marriage. And it sort of takes the pressure off, which is really nice.

    • Denzi

      Yup. This was exactly the experience I had. That the wedding was the end of “getting married,” not the beginning. And that the beginning of “being married” had happened at least six months before the wedding.

  • The perfect wedding we’ve been planning just got thrown out the window, so the reminder that it’s the process and not the end result is wonderful right now.

  • Bob

    I think a wedding is a bit like a shout about a relationship, where that relationship itself is like breathing in and out each day.

    Can’t shout without air though.
    Seriously. Can’t be done.

  • Another Meg

    This. Completely. My first marriage was short and NOT good, but our wedding- our wedding was awesome. The planning, however, involved a lot of awfulness, which set the tone for our marriage. But the actual day- the flowers, dress, food, cake, all of that- was perfect. The day itself lives on in a little bubble as the best part of my marriage. I was swept up in feeling because I wanted to be a young bride and I was getting what I wanted (at the time!) and not because I had built a partnership with another person that was officially getting a forever home.
    I completely love this post and it came at a perfect time, as usual. While planning a second wedding, a LAST wedding, for the marriage I absolutely can’t wait for, it’s really great to see this and remember that the planning might set the tone for our future partnership, but the wedding day doesn’t. If the day is rained out and no one comes and we get married in bathing suits by an outhouse, our marriage will be just as great as if we get married in a sunny, twinkly forest and we have everyone we love circling us.

  • Lturtle

    I love this idea! Relationship growing pains is such a perfect way to put it. Also, it reminds me of something my daughter said a few months ago: that as much fun as it is to open presents and stuff on Xmas morning, the best part of Xmas is the weeks leading up to it when we spend time together baking, decorating and making gifts.

    I think that shared experiences can be an invaluable foundation for any relationship. Whether that is shared work, or play, or anticipation, or celebration, or sorrow, or … You get the idea.

  • This rings true for me as well. We spent an awful lot of time working on our wedding and I loved every second of the process. But it was just a party, really. A great, awesome party.
    I will say this, though: we’ve been through a lot since getting married, and issues have come up that our families have been extremely opinionated about. During the wedding planning, we basically ignored everything that everyone said or asked for and did what felt right to us. Doing that was fantastic preparation for the onslaught of opinions to come, and I am very, very grateful for the experience.

    • meg

      It’s so funny, the differences in experience. Our wedding wasn’t just a party (though the reception was a GREAT party). It was a huge religious (and also spiritual, and also just transformative experience). Kind of like birth, I guess. Which is why the party was so great. But also, because of how transformative it was, I can totally tell you that I didn’t ENJOY every second of the process. I was very present for our ceremony, but it was very, very… hard? I’m not sure there is a word for it. Like birth again, I guess, which I assume is not enjoyable when you’re a baby (or, um, the mom).

      It’s interesting, looking back. Our planning process was at times really painful, and taught us a lot. But had the wedding been just a party for me, I think that would change my whole perspective on the process. Goodness knows how, because you can’t go back, but it’s interesting to think about. Hum.

  • CBaker

    I love this post. I feel like future me could have written it. We are still SEVERAL months out from our wedding day, but early on in the planning process my fiance pointed out that our wedding will not change our relationship. At first I was horrified. Shocked. Upset.

    Then I realized he was so RIGHT ON. (and THANK THE GODS). This is the relationship I had chosen to be in for the rest of my life, why would I want it to change? Of course we (and our partnership) will continue to naturally evolve as life goes on, but the wedding will just be one fun day, not the culmination (or foundation) of our life. We have already worked so hard on our relationship foundation!

    (I love the Christmas day and Graduation sentiments!)

    • meg

      Maybe! But also maybe not! I basically said what you said verbatim to my Rabbi before our wedding, and she laughed, and then said, “But, actually not really at all.” Turns out, for us, she was right. It changed everything (and nothing) and thank god. Our relationship was great before, our relationship is great after, but things changed (which I totally didn’t expect) and it was amazing. Did we have a foundation before the wedding? Yes. In a whole other way did the wedding ceremony build a new foundation? Also yes. Both at once! How strange is that? It for sure wasn’t just a really fun day (it was actually a really complicated day with some really fun parts).

      So anyway. It might change nothing for you. Or it might change lots for you. All you can really do is show up and see, I think! Which is not a way of saying “You’ll seeee” because I have no damn idea what will happen for anyone. But I think that’s the cool part. And also that multiple things can be true all at once. Or it was for me. Just going into it like, “Well here we go!”

      And we went.

      • Steph

        Thank you so much for this: “it was actually a really complicated day with some really fun parts.”

        I’ve been struggling for almost 2 years now to wrap my head around my wedding day. It wasn’t that I didn’t like our wedding. It wasn’t that it wasn’t super fun (at times). It was just such a complicated web of emotions. Hard stuff, good stuff, annoying stuff, amazing stuff. I love the idea of thinking of it more as complicated because I sometimes feel like I don’t have a clear way to express how I felt that day.

    • Huh. Even though the type of wedding that we had has had little bearing on our marriage today, I do think that our wedding changed our relationship. It didn’t fix our issues or make us happier each other. What it did do was give us a sense of permanence and life-long commitment. When the option of leaving is no longer on the table (for our beliefs, that is) than each struggle is viewed differently. Being married makes the compromise a little easier to bear and the love that much more deeper. That’s how I felt the day after our wedding.

      • CBaker

        Thanks for sharing this! I think the “option of leaving” being gone place happened for us well before the wedding. THAT was a huge transition for me, coming to terms with FOREVER. He handled it with much more grace. (I yelled a lot about socks on the floor)

        I am open to all the experiences and changes that planning, the wedding, and life together will bring. I am just so grateful to hear that people have DIFFERENT experiences with these things, and that they are all perfectly ok! Even good!

        • Marina

          I’ve had a hard time verbalizing the sense of change I felt after the wedding, because like you I’d felt that the option of leaving was off the table long before we got married or engaged. But I still felt more… settled? maybe? after the wedding. It was suddenly easier to put into words what we were to each other–husband and wife. And I think the act of saying in front of our family and friends what we’d been saying to each other for years was more powerful than I’d thought it would be.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Wedding planning has mostly been great fun. I do not expect the wedding day to be fun. I LIKE planning. But the kind of party we feel appropriately celebrates our marriage is not the kind of party we like to attend.

    But the planning HAS taught us about each other and our relationship. And the planning is more like marriage itself than the wedding day. Budgets, priorities, to-do lists, delegation, decisions – these are big aspects of marriage. Hymns, flowers, clothes, dance music – these are not.

  • Alexis C

    Phew. I needed this. The different experiences expressed in the post and comments helped reorient me and I had another one of my APW Lightbulb Moments.

    Thank you, Team Practical – you folks continually teach me.

  • Meg F.

    This post was really meaningful to me. I just passed the six-month mark of my marriage, and as husband and I eloped to Colorado and solemnized our own marriage with no witnesses in a remote cabin the the Rockies (by the way, you can totally do that legally in Colorado, just FYI), memories of the day are really important to me. Memories of the whole trip, actually. The first night of our honeymoon involved our rented 4×4 getting stuck at the bottom of a steep hill with a foot of snow, at night, in 10 degree weather, and me making about 20 trips up and down the hill to bring in our groceries while husband tried bravely to shovel the entire hillside. Talk about cooperation and cheer in the face of misfortune. The next day we were an hour late for photographs because the car got stuck wedged in such a way as it was about to roll off the narrow road down a very steep hill. We had to pile rocks, sticks, and bank snow to get the car backed down in line. Then it got stuck because husband left the e-brake on, and yes, I did get out in my wedding dress and hiking boots and push the car down the hill, only to find out at the bottom of the hill it was completely unnecessary. Husband had no snow-worthy boots, so to get down from the cabin to the car in his tux, he wore dress shoes and held on to my shoulders as he slid behind me, as I had a pair of hiking boots. On our wedding day, we ate our wedding dinner off of John Deere plates under an antler chandelier, because that was the kind of plates they had in the cabin we rented. In some ways this could have been a really miserable experience, but it wasn’t. We spent the whole time laughing our butts off at what a great story it would make. We went out to the movies after we got married. I kept the tiny scraps of notebook paper we used to write our vows and typed them up to be printed into the photobook I had to remember the wedding later on. When husband and I are fighting or I’m generally having a hard time that I promised not to kill him, I crack open the book, look at pictures of us in the snow, and read our vows. And it always brings home very clearly why I married this man, and what a powerful and wonderful experience that was–and continues to be. The way you remember how your marriage started can be anything, but I think it’s important to do.

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  • MDBethann

    I don’t think the wedding is the foundation, but I think the vows and the promises you make are, and that they are reflective of your relationship. Even though we said a combination of the traditional vows suggested by the pastor, they were what we want in our marriage – better or worse, sickness or health, richer or poorer, until death parts us. And the day after our wedding, I got really really sick with a stomach bug, so sick that he couldn’t sleep because he was so worried about me. And then when we finally got home, I was so weak and tired that he was willing to carry me into the house when I asked. We’ve only been married a month, but I think we are trying to live out our vows every day in the way that we take care of one another and are there for one another.

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