Over the past eight years, Jenifer and I have had the honor of having more than 500 couples come through our Marriage Prep Workshops. Investing in these young, teachable couples is perhaps our all-time favorite thing to do in ministry.
Several times a year, we set up a booth at a local bridal expo to promote our workshop. Amidst all the florists, photographers and cake decorators, we make our pitch: "You're here to plan your wedding, and I'm sure it's going to be beautiful. But remember, when the wedding is over, there's this thing that starts immediately after called a marriage. And it lasts longer than the wedding does."
Some brides (and the occasional groom) are open to our pitch. They want to be successful in marriage and know they need some coaching. But sadly, many brides won't talk to us. They are too busy planning their dream weddings to waste time thinking about the details and challenges of building a lasting marriage.
I blame reality TV shows such as "Say Yes to the Dress" and "Four Weddings." These shows and the bazillion-dollar wedding industry have convinced many young women that the key to marital bliss is the perfect wedding. Their message: "You must have decor that dazzles, food that amazes, and an event that takes people's breath away. In a nutshell, you must impress your friends and family. The more awesome the wedding event, the more awesome you are. In turn, the more awesome your marriage will be."
A recent report tells us that the opposite is true. More expensive weddings result is more divorces.
Using data pulled from an Emory University Study, Taryn Hillin writes at Huffington Post that couples with pricey engagement rings and extravagant weddings divorce at a far higher rate than those who take a more economical route. Specifically, "women whose weddings cost $20,000 or more were 3.5 times more likely to end up divorced than women who spent $5,000 to $10,000." Read that again: They are three and a half times more likely to divorce!
Before you start thinking about heading to Las Vegas to elope, the study also suggests that smaller isn't better. According to Hillin, "The researchers found that having more guests—not spending more money—led to longer marriages." I agree with that. There is incredible value in having a large group of friends and family present to witness your vows and to celebrate the event.
So what is an engaged couple to do? How in the world does a couple have the biggest wedding possible for the least amount of money? When our daughter married a few years ago, we had more than 450 guests, and it was the party of the century. But we didn't go crazy with unnecessary extravagance. We wanted to focus on the couple and the awesome God who put them together. And you can ask anyone: It was incredible.
Here are a few tips that engaged couples planning a wedding should consider:
1. Make a commitment early on to consistently remind one another that you must focus more on the marriage than on the wedding. Of course, I recommend getting pre-marital counseling. If love was all you needed, then we wouldn't see so many marriages ending in divorce.
2. Cut corners wherever you can. You can rent a dress for a fraction of the cost of buying one. Realize that nobody will care about your $5,000 dress if you have to declare bankruptcy.
3. Schedule the wedding at a time where you won't feel obligated to feed people a lot of food. If you want to have a meal, then host the reception at the church. Those $40/person catering costs can add up.
4. Skip the alcohol. Radical, I know.
5. Forget the "extras" that the wedding industry tries to convince you that you need. Somehow, your marriage will survive if you don't have a photo booth at the reception. The people who insist that you need to send everyone home with a "favor" are the people who want to sell "favors." Don't get suckered.
6. Recruit talented acquaintances who can shoot video, help with food, decorate, etc. You probably don't want to skimp on your photographer, but someone who charges $3,000 isn't necessarily three times better than someone who charges you $1,000.
7. Don't go into debt to pay for your own wedding. Three years into marriage, no newlywed couple needs the added stress of paying for a four-hour event that happened long ago.
George Clooney may have the cash to throw an over-the-top party for his wedding in Venice. But most of the rest of us do not. Don't let the bridal industry and the pressure to impress others cause you to spend more than you have to on your wedding. The research is in, and I agree with it wholeheartedly: An economical, heart-felt wedding attended by all the people you love is the best way to start a marriage.
Anything more than that might just be too much icing on the cake.
Barrett Johnson is the founder of INFO for Families and the author of The Talks: A Parent's Guide to Critical Conversations about Sex, Dating, and Other Unmentionables.
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