Focusing Less on Your Wedding Day Makes for a Happier Marriage

The 'happily ever after' mentality won't help you.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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The 'happily ever after' mentality won't help you.
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Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

The secret to a happy marriage is the “it” antidote of the 21st century. Ever elusive and desperate to find the cure, social scientists have been feverishly prodding and poking married couples to find out just why they won’t stay married.

In the meantime, our generation is not about to sit around and wait for the white coats to figure it out. But we're divided on how to proceed. Half of us seem to be playing it safe by avoiding marriage all together, while the other half is diving in—sink or swim. Still, those of us who have decided to go for it are doing our due diligence. We devour relationship advice, pour over wedding blogs—the perfect dress means lasting love, right?—and we click on every new study that claims to have found the fatal flaw in this whole marriage thing.

The most recent update from the squints warns us that the perfect dresses and receptions we have been ogling in all of those wedding catalogues and blogs may be contributing to the demise of our future marriages. The study suggests that those men who spend $2K or more on an engagement ring are more likely to end up divorced. Likewise, women who spend $20k or more on the wedding itself are more likely to miss out on happily ever after. Social scientists suggest that these expenses lead to financial strain that can cause irreparable damage to our budding marriages.

While I can certainly imagine how these financial burdens can be detrimental to the health of a marriage, I do think experts are sweeping the real problem under the rug. The real sickness to be treated here is not the amount of money we spend on our weddings, but the reason we spend so much on our wedding day.

It’s understandable that we anticipate and ascribe great significance to this one very big day. But our relationships prior to marriage seem to be soley focused on making this day a reality. We are so hyper-focused on getting the guy and then saying “yes” to the dress, that the day-in and day-out of marriage gets simplified into “happily ever after yeah, yeah, whatever.”

And that’s how we prepare for marriage: by preparing for the big day and totally neglecting all the days ever after. We spend so much time and cash on all of the bling and tulle, that we forget that our wedding day is really a promise waiting to fulfilled. Our wedding day is the day when we have been passed the torch, but the race is nowhere near won.

Spending less money on our wedding day could help to eliminate the distractions that can get in the way of actually preparing for marriage. Without having to constantly coordinate with wedding planners and compare our rock to our friends', there is more time and mental energy to focus on what happens after we say “I do.” Our conversations might more easily turn into discussions of how we see family life, rather than whether to serve lamb as the entre.

But burning wedding catalogs and boycotting overpriced diamonds won’t solve the problem of marriages that don’t work. All of that debt is just a symptom; alleviating it won’t give us the cure.

The reality is all of these diamonds and Bridezilla-sized wedding receptions only fall short when they are viewed as the end goal, the culmination of a lifelong pursuit to “get married.” This hyperfocus on the wedding day causes far more damage to the marriage itself than the thousands of dollars that have been sunk into it.

This leaves those of us who want a wedding to decide why it is we want it. If our anticipation for our wedding day lies in the gratification of getting the guy, the ring, the party—in other words the satisfaction of our selfish desires—then any money we spend on our wedding day will feel burdensome and stressful after our wedding day has come and gone. But if our wedding day is celebrated as a pre-game party—red Solo cups and all—instead of the after party, that means we'll likely see it as a kickoff to something even greater. The pre-party could go off without a hitch, and that's fine. But the game hasn’t even started and certainly is yet to be won.