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A couple planning a wedding: how wedding planning can strengthen a relationship.
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6 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship as You Plan Your Wedding

Build a bond strong enough to last a lifetime with these tips from a therapist.

Getting engaged, planning a wedding, and preparing for life with your favorite person is one of the most exciting and joyful times of your life, but it can also be rife with familial conflicts, disagreements over the budget, and the need for a lot of compromises. Still, every challenge you face while planning your wedding is an opportunity to improve your relationship, strengthen your bond, and deepen your communication skills as a couple.

“Defining your shared values, navigating conflict, getting on the same page in terms of finances, deciding how we spend time in relationships outside of our primary relationships—any number of topics that come up during wedding planning need to get negotiated on an ongoing basis,” says Jennifer Uhrlass, licensed marriage and family therapist at Modern MFT in New York City. “It has to be an ongoing, open dialogue, which is really training for the ongoing negotiations that are going that are going to take place along the course of the relationship.”

Meet the Expert

Jennifer Uhrlass is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) at Modern MFT in New York City.

Ahead, Uhrlass speaks to us about how this crucial window of time—the engagement period—can be an opportunity for couples to strengthen their relationship and build new skills as partners.

Communicate and Compromise

Every aspect of your wedding is about the two of you as a couple, which means you’ll both need to compromise to create a day that speaks to two different personalities. Sometimes it’s easy: Maybe one partner doesn’t care about the signature cocktails or the other partner doesn’t have a preference for the reception exit. But when only one partner is set on a destination wedding, or wants a religious ceremony, or won’t trim the guest list, the middle ground can be much harder to find.

The key, says Uhrlass, is making sure you take the time to fully listen to and process your partner’s wishes—and express your own—so that you can come to an agreement you are both on board with. “Do you truly, truly hear and understand the other person’s perspective, or are you just glossing over stuff and moving forward without understanding?” she says. “There are times when you can miss each other’s message—the message sent is not always the message received. Recognize the importance of slowing down the interaction, making sure you heard and understood what your partner said, and making sure that you can come to a mutual understanding.”

Get Into an Argument—or Several

Arguments about the details of your wedding—whether it’s your partner’s desire to torpedo the guest list by adding three tables of fraternity brothers or your own insistence on a specific type of music—are precursors to future conflicts in your life together. How you approach and solve these conflicts helps you lay the foundation for healthy and productive disagreements in the future. “Learning how to navigate conflict effectively with your partner is essential,” says Uhrlass. “You have to be able to do that well with each other because the problems are going to be perpetual. There's always going to be a need to navigate and negotiate ongoing issues throughout the course of the relationship.” Today it’s the guest list and cake flavors; tomorrow it may be where to send your kids to school or how to spend your year-end bonus. “Often, partners tend to get caught up in the content of a disagreement, when it can be much more productive to focus on their process of engagement when it comes to a particular conflict,” says Uhrlass. “What’s important is to learn how to navigate that conflict effectively; not so much trying to avoid conflict altogether, but to recognize that conflict is a healthy part of a relationship.”

A couple holding hands while planning their wedding.

Photo by Getty Images; Design by Mehroz Kapadia

Set Family Boundaries

Weddings can bring out the best in your family, but there's no denying that they can also bring out the worst. Explaining to your parents that you won’t be tying the knot at your childhood church, telling your mother-in-law her entire bridge club didn’t make the guest list, breaking the news to your siblings that their toddlers won’t be invited to the reception: These family conflicts (and many others) have the potential to put you and your partner on opposite teams. As you prepare for your wedding, it's important to remember that you’re also developing a new team of your own. “One of the natural challenges around the topic of getting married is that there’s a shift: You were part of one family unit and now you’re cultivating a new family unit in your relationship with your partner,” says Uhrlass. “Moving through this identity shift can bring up a lot of conflicts and a lot of emotion.”

Use this time to set collective boundaries as a couple, understand each other’s family history, and prioritize your partnership. “It is possible to work through this through dialogue and understanding each person’s perspective,” says Urhlass. “’Your mom wants this, however, for us, we’re also weighing this and this,’—you want to make sure that you get on the same page so you can make decisions together as a unit.”

Talk About Money

How you choose to finance your wedding is a microcosm of the larger financial decisions you’ll make in the future: How you put together a budget, and whether you’ll stick to it; whether you’re willing to take on credit card debt or loans, or accept money from either set of parents; whether your individual incomes and spending patterns are causing unseen conflict. Deciding whether you want to splurge on a band or spend less on a DJ is a precursor to future conversations about which house is in your budget, whether you’ll put a vacation on your credit card, and how often you need to upgrade your television. “Navigating issues related to finances is a common point of contention,” says Urhlass. “It could bring up difficult emotions such as fear or feelings of inadequacy. There may also be significant power differentials; in a relationship where there's a disparity in income, it can negatively impact a couple's ability to address issues in a productive way. If partners haven't reached a place where they feel comfortable, there can be a lot to unpack there. If you're just leaving it festering in the background, and you're not really addressing it, then they will tend to get worse, or stay unaddressed, which can lead to contempt later on.”

Give Each Other Space to Destress

Every major life change brings a heightened period of stress, and you and your partner will need to know how to take care of yourselves—and each other—to get through them. “Learning to take care of yourself through the very difficult wedding planning process is, I think, an essential element to navigating life effectively,” says Uhrlass. “If we're stressed to the max and we're not taking care of ourselves, we're not working out, we're not getting our proper sleep, we're not getting nutrition, or we're not spending time with friends, it’s going to have a major impact on how we approach topics and conflict and disagreements. It's really important to step back and stick to routines that are helpful to manage the stress effectively.”

This could mean planning your meal tasting around your partner’s weekly round of golf, making sure you have enough money set aside for weekend excursions (instead of putting all travel on hold until your honeymoon), or maintaining your Friday date night—no wedding talk allowed. “Set aside time to have space with each other,” says Uhrlass. “Spend time with each other nurturing your relationship, as opposed to talking about the to-do list for the wedding.

Define Your Shared Values

A shared vision for your big day can also help you define the elements that will become your family’s values moving forward: How closely will you follow religious traditions? How often will you see your parents and siblings? What constitutes a worthwhile financial investment? How do you, as a couple and as individuals, define and deepen your relationships with your friends? “Two people can have very different beliefs and philosophies about money, or [anything] across the board,” says Urhlass. “That doesn't necessarily mean that they're incompatible. It just might mean that there's more to talk about, that they understand each other and make sure that they can be on the same page in terms of their long-term goals, their values, and how they want to move forward in their lives developing a sense of identity as a couple.”

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