What's Better Than A Big Wedding? A Beautiful Marriage

Prepare for Your Marriage By Planning Your Wedding

Arguments about wedding planning foreshadow rocky times ahead.

If you think you might want to marry, what beats a big, expensive wedding?

A recent CNN series on contemporary weddings titled their headline article "Don't Waste Your Money On Your Wedding!" That's a strong warning, countering powerful headwinds that run in the opposite direction. The typical wedding these days costs an average of $30,000 to host, not to mention the costs guests may spend on travel and hotels in order to attend. So is there an alternative?

A far less expensive alternative is to first spend money on learning how to make decisions together in a cooperative and loving way. Read a book, peruse blog posts on the skills you need before getting married, or take a course on marriage communication skills. For next to nothing in expenses, you've laid the groundwork for creating a wedding that will be truly win-win, plus a marriage that will continue to uphold your traditions in excellent joint communication skills.

What behaviors indicate that you're making decisions together in a way that's cooperative and loving? "Cooperative" means you treat each other as teammates, not adversaries. "Loving" means listening — truly listening to your partner's concerns. 

Click here to see a video that demonstrates the opposite. (If this couple gets married, they're heading for trouble)!

So what beats a big, expensive wedding? First learn the skills for making shared decisions so that all the choices you make for the wedding, and better yet, for the marriage that follows, feel good to you both. Win-win decision-making doesn't mean that you both get your way (that is, get what you initially proposed). If you want a destination wedding at a faraway beach and your fiancé wants a big bash at home, you obviously both can't say "yes, let's do it your way". Instead, win-win means that you identify what the concerns underlying your original solutions ideas.  Then you can use this clarity to create an even better solution, a plan that's responsive to the concerns of both of you..

Shirley wanted a destination wedding. When she really considered why she wanted to get married on the beach, she realized it was because tying the knot in her hometown meant she had to invite just about everyone. Growing up in a small town, everyone knows everyone and everything, so leaving out any of her high school friends would have hurt their feelings badly. At the same time, Shirley wanted her wedding to be small and intimate. The noise of crowds had always rattled her, and a big wedding with all her friends would feel overwhelming instead of relaxed and meaningful.

Shirley’s fiancé Sam wanted a big bash at home. Sam was from the same small town as Shirley, so he figured the event would have to be big.  Having the wedding in their hometown appealed to him because that would require him to take less time off from work than a wedding in the Carribbean. Sam was a practical kind of guy. A beer bash wedding at home, where a Sunday lunch could be salads and Shirley's family could make the food, would be radically less expensive than a wedding at a fancy hotel on the beach. Besides, none of his family would be able to afford the airfares or hotel rates, so he and Shirley would have to dig deep into their mutual savings to cover everyone's costs.

Once they both had verbalized their underlying concerns, they discussed what they'd found. They wanted something with a small number of people, intimate rather than overwhelming, something that kept the costs down, and something that would let Sam save his vacation days for the honeymoon they were aiming to take the following summer.

Next came the creative thinking. "My uncle has a cabin in the mountains a few hours drive away. That would feel remote and romantic," Shirley suggested.

Sam thought for a minute. As he saw his big bash dream wedding gradually fading, he actually felt a sense of relief. "I love it!" he said. "We could invite just family and our very closest friends. Everyone who wants to could camp out on Saturday night, and the others could drive up on Sunday morning. The whole town wouldn't know, or else would understand that it's just a tiny gathering out of town. We could do the cooking, all of us together, on Saturday, and then on Sunday enjoy a leisurely wedding ceremony."

"Better yet," Shirley suggested, "How about if you and the guys all go on a fishing hike on Saturday while the women get to have a ladies day of cooking together in the cabin?"

Sam reached out with a big bear hug. "I love this plan. I love you!"

The moral of the story: Learn to make win-win-decisions instead of either fighting or settling for an idea that doesn't really work for both of you. Odds are these skills can save you a heap of wedding money. Equally important, the way that the two of you make decisions about your wedding, including the problems you have talking these decisions through, predict how you will interact as a couple in the married years ahead. If you learn cooperative decision-making for planning the day of your wedding, your wedding will most likely be followed by years of deeply gratifying marriage.

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., author of The Power of Two book and workbook, invites you to check out PowerOfTwoMarriage.com. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for a free relationship quiz plus three days of free relationship help.

More marriage advice from YourTango:

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.