Couples can get married for as little as $35. The Justice of the Peace or your minister can perform a quiet ceremony. Cost? Just $35 for the marriage license.

The average cost of a wedding today, however, is over $35,000, with some exceeding into the $50,000 to $70,000 ranges and above. Couple that with the statistic that 40-50 percent of marriages end in divorce. There has to be a moral, even a warning, as these statistics face each other … and couples face planning a wedding.

Let me suggest that it is far more imperative to plan a marriage rather than a wedding. Read the traditional vows. You may not use them, but they are time-tested.

For better or worse. Plan for the “worse,” hope for the “better” and take what comes. It won’t always be what you expected or “planned.” You will face untold challenges to your relationship through the “worse.” Commitment will get you through them, and you will be a better mate for enduring and learning from them.

For richer or poorer. Plan for the poorer, hope for the richer and take what comes. There will be times of plenty, but count on the fact that there will times of want. Plenty and want imply finances, but they are so much more. Are you rich in selflessness or poverty-stricken? If poverty-stricken, you will struggle with marriage, but if you are open, it will teach you to be more giving.

Are you rich in stubbornness or poverty-stricken? If rich, you will contribute to untold and often unnecessary struggles that tear down a marriage. Are you rich in compromise or poverty-stricken? No relationship requires more willingness to compromise than marriage. Are you rich in commitment or poverty-stricken? If poverty-stricken, your marriage will always be a tenuous obligation rather than the fulfilling relationship two people can have.

In sickness and health. Plan for the sickness, hope for the health and take what comes. Consider how you might react if your spouse suffers an unexpected diagnosis that will challenge what you envisioned for your life together. Will you stand by your loved one, make sacrificial decisions that place that person at the forefront of the relationship? Will you be willing to work to understand the challenges, the changes, the chances that any diagnosis will be long-term and demanding?

Will you be willing to see your partner through a personal crisis that you don’t understand? Will you enter into counseling if your relationship becomes “ill?”

Marriage counseling prior to a wedding, done well, should compel you to question some of your presumptions about what marriage is designed to be. You should be confronted with the demands of making a relationship work rather than making the money stretch to pay for the wedding.

Marriage has been the most significant relationship in my life. It has also been the most demanding. It demanded that I let go of preconceived notions of “happy ever after.” It demanded that I face my faults honestly, willing to change and adjust. As my husband said, “We each have to take a long look in the mirror.”

Why? Why consider all of this? “Till death do us part” ends the vows you make with your partner. You must take that seriously, for it involves a commitment far beyond what most couples only begin to understand.

Last Thursday would have been my 38th wedding anniversary. Death parted us. The wedding was a minimal expense. The marriage was a glorious gift of true commitment.

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