Don’t forget to think about ever after.

It’s easy and exciting to get caught up in wedding planning—it can also be excruciating and expensive. But, it’s important to remember that the wedding is just a party. As a marriage counselor, I can’t encourage couples enough to remember, especially in the midst of all the planning, to prepare for the marriage as well.

Here are five essential things to add to your “to-do” list ahead of the big day.

01. Embrace Conflict

I generally don’t trust a couple that hasn’t had at least one big, nasty, relationship-threatening blowout. Conflict is an inevitable and necessary part of any relationship. All couples have conflict, and most of that is hardwired into the relationship. Accept that. Embrace it even. Make peace with your differences. In order to do that, you’ll need to really explore and understand them. Make this a priority.

You might need help, so . . .

02. Do Some Pre-Marriage Prep

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of “pre-marital counseling,” mostly because when it comes to marriage, you have no idea what you don’t know. Only marriage itself can really teach you about the challenges of being married. That being said, skills-based training before the wedding day can equip you with the tools you need to face the challenges of marriage with eyes wide open. Having preempted conflict ahead of time, you are less likely to let bad marriage habits sneak up on you, and your reflexes will be faster if they do.

And before you do have bad habits . . .

03. Find a Therapist

Again, until you’re married, you have no idea what you don’t know. Which is why every newlywed couple should have a therapist they trust on speed dial, someone who can help them navigate the many ups and downs of a lifelong relationship. A good therapist will help you gain perspective on your conflict and will also help you orient to the long and difficult process of becoming a new family.

Speaking of which . . .

04. Define Family

Every single couple I see in my practice will eventually talk about their family. “My family is like this . . .” or “My family is like that . . .” Here’s the deal: When you get married, you create a new family. Your family. It’s really important that you redefine family to include you and your spouse (and, eventually, your kids). Of course you will still be a part of your extended family, but the sooner you can wrap your heads around a new definition, the better. You cannot invest in your future if you do not (or cannot) separate from the past.

Speaking of investment . . .

05. Open a Joint Bank Account

I am not advising that you combine money. I’m also not advising that you don’t. But I do know that money is one area where couples have a hard time surrendering the “yours vs. mine” mentality. A joint bank account establishes a version of “ours” that is critical for a marriage. The Bible’s version of marriage includes the phrase “two become one.” (If you’re not into the Bible, call it ancient poetic wisdom.) The notion of “becoming one” assumes an integration of body, soul, mind . . . and money. If you need yours and mine, that’s fine, but make sure you also have a sense of our, even if it’s just the money you’re saving for your fiftieth anniversary party.

Remember, the wedding is just a party. You really only have two responsibilities on that day. The first is to show up. The second is to take your vows (and sign a piece of paper). The rest is just incidental. If it’s not a perfect day, that’s good. No one tells stories about a perfect wedding. They tell stories about the thing that goes wrong and the couple that handled it with grace. Be that couple. Be more interested in the marriage than the wedding, knowing that you have no idea how much you don’t know.

Photo Credit: Alixann Loosle Photography