Wedding Planning: The First Big Relationship Challenge

Are you about to jump into the exciting world of wedding planning? You and your partner may want to read this, first.

by Drs. Michelle & Patrick Gannon, Marriage Prep 101

Plan the Planning Process First

This is the most important step in our approach to wedding planning. Unfortunately, this is also the step that most couples forget. Remember this: planning a wedding takes time and effort and, like any challenge, the way you meet the challenge requires planning, too. Do this step first before you are drowning in the details.

Now and then couples will ask why bother with this step (that is, those who don’t forget). The answer is simple. If you look at the planning as an opportunity to practice relationship skills, planning the way you will undertake this project rather than simply plunging into the process makes perfect sense. We want you to be conscious of HOW you are doing this as well as WHAT you are doing, especially since your wedding is a celebration of your union.

So what happens if you and your partner have different expectations about who will do what? What if job stress or other distractions interfere with one person’s ability to follow through on the planning process? By first discussing how you will collaborate on your wedding planning, you will establish a framework of expectations, decision-making and action based on practical realities of who you are and what you are, in fact, able to do. Thinking ahead of the curve will reduce misunderstandings and disappointments down the road.

Ava and Shane decided early on to wait at least one year between their engagement and wedding: “I knew we would hit some friction points over wedding planning so we decided to start the process very early,” said Shane.

“And I really like to have some leisure time in the process,” Ava added, “so that I can actually enjoy it. We didn’t want to let any pressure build up because it increases the chance that unresolved conflicts might come between us.”

Wise couple.

Don’t Assume Anything!

Like Ava and Shane, you’ll want first to ask each other how much control you each want over the wedding decision-making. Most couples assume they will share equally, but in reality, one person usually assumes more control.

Talk to each other and understand clearly what each of you would prefer—do you want to address all the invitations? Would you like to choose the flowers on your own? Do you know exactly who should be the photographer? Together reach an agreement that suits your needs as a couple as well as each of your individual needs.

Partnership Models

We’ve provided five different planning models; one of these (or some combination) may work for you—but make sure you both feel comfortable with the model you select, and make sure you discuss each of the options before deciding.


The bride (and perhaps her mother) takes on most of the planning and decision-making, while the groom is happy (or not) assuming a secondary role. Couples who marry in the bride’s hometown (with the wedding paid for by the bride’s parents) most often utilize this model.


Either the bride or the groom agrees to take on the majority of the planning and decision-making for specific reasons (often related to one or another person’s other commitments—work, ailing parent, and so forth). The person taking on fewer responsibilities may be assigned specific tasks based on particular areas of expertise.


The bride and the groom share equally in the planning and decision-making. Each has their own “to do” list and they share decision-making as well. A bargaining discussion results in the assignment of specific tasks, and these are usually based on each individual’s interests and/or expertise. (If your groom-to-be’s mom is a florist, for instance, guess who’ll do the flower arrangements?)


If both the bride and groom are exceptionally busy (jobs, children, parents, volunteer work, illness), a wedding coordinator is hired to handle the majority of wedding planning tasks; he or she will organize the wedding based on detailed discussions with the couple. These folks are experts, remember, and most couples agree to the counsel offered.


Similar to the asymmetrical model, in the corporate model one person does most of the research but both bride and groom share equally the decision-making. One person gathers information, opinions, photos, ideas, and presents these for discussion and shared decision-making in regularly scheduled “conferences.”

Now, imagine out loud the ways in which whatever model you have selected will work in relationship with your vision.

Real Couple, Real Planning

For their wedding planning, Ed and Tina decided to employ the “asymmetrical” model because Ed was committed to a full-time job and Tina had some available time coming up in her work schedule as a project manager at a public relations firm. “I like to start out with a timeline to create a schedule for Ed and me that will allow us each to do the things we know best. Then I will write up a list of my ideas—what we call in my profession a ‘creative brief’ —that will give a plan for moving forward with our choices. Our wedding will be pretty casual, so I won’t have a lot to figure out. Some of the tasks can be delayed for a few months. Certain items will be delegated to Ed, who likes negotiation. I’ll have my checklist and information about suppliers and due dates. My job will be to oversee the planning and then frame decisions for Ed and me to decide about it.”

Again, a wise couple.

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