Thursday, January 24, 2013

First Steps and Advice for Engaged Catholic Couples

My friend Anna got engaged last week. The next day she texted me, "What do I do, now??" I remember that feeling. The realization that you have a whole wedding to plan can be a little scary and overwhelming!

I texted her back with everything I've learned about wedding planning in my six months of being engaged, and after I sent it to her, I decided to write it up for the blog. Who knows, maybe it can help a few other couples!

First Steps After Getting Engaged:

1. Give yourself a week or two to let it sink in before you start planning. Just enjoy being engaged and give yourself a space of time to get used to it (and to stop staring at your ring every 30 seconds... six months later, I'm finally down to every two minutes) before you start the stressful process of planning.

2. When it's time to plan, I have three words for you: Real Simple checklist. A married friend recommended it to me and she was right; it's the absolute best. It's sensible, it's practical, and it doesn't offer a "one-size-fits-all" approach. You can even save your progress as you go (I've been doing that, and even though I'm consistently a month behind schedule, gradually everything's getting done!)

Bonus: Real Simple also has handy checklists for other aspects of wedding planning—my favorite is this list of questions to ask before hiring a photographer. Frank and I printed it and took it with us when we booked our photographer.

3. As for the nitty-gritty, you'll want to reserve the church and reception site first. That covers the planning basics, and once those are reserved, you can step back and take a little break. Along with reserving the church, pick a great priest for marriage prep. Marriage prep with a good priest is an incredible experience. Our pastor has an amazing understanding of human nature and of a married couple's dynamics, and with his help, Frank and I are learning to understand each other better and see eye-to-eye more and more.

4. There will inevitably be moments when you freak out. Last week Serena reminded me of the near-meltdown I had days after getting engaged when I was overcome with the stressful thought of planning a wedding. When those moments come, remember (as Auntie Leila says) that it's just Mass and then a party. Mass and a party, you can handle that! (At least that's what I tell myself when I feel inclined to stress out. :) )

5. Along with booking your church and reception site, if you are sending paper invitations, start collecting addresses right away. Getting everyone's addresses together was the most time-consuming part of planning. My mom and Frank's mom had long lists of relatives they wanted to invite, but it took dozens of phone calls and emails to track all their addresses down. You can't start too early!

6. This really should be number one: make sure you are spending time in prayer and spiritual reading specific to the marriage vocation. Marriage is a vocation like no other, and it's all too common nowadays for couples to spend more time planning their wedding than preparing for their marriage. I think the couples who reads this blog know better, but it still helps to have suggestions. Here are some of the best readings I know to prepare yourself spiritually and psychologically:

The Catechism on Matrimony. Our pastor had us read it for marriage prep so we would understand the Church's position on marriage in its fullness. This reading is short but spectacular. I want to reread it every year and frame parts of it to put up in our home.

Three To Get Married. The joke among my set at Notre Dame was that you could tell someone had just gotten engaged when she started reading this book and carrying it around everywhere. It's a lengthy and dense book, but there's a reason it's a spiritual classic. I learned so much from this book and underlined huge chunks in almost every chapter. Another one to reread again and again.

The Four Loves. C.S. Lewis' classic on marriage, Frank and I read it for marriage prep and pulled out parts to discuss with each other and the priest. Lewis packed so much into this short little book and we learned a lot from it.

By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride. Alice von Hildebrand's sweet, moving, and exquisite reflection on married love, with special emphasis on the early years. This book is rich in wisdom and is helpful for wives at any stage of marriage—my mom still likes to read it after 25 years. (Thanks to Holly for the suggestion!)

A Catholic Handbook for Engaged and Newly Married Couples. This book is like a little theology course on marriage packed into one short and very accessible volume. It's a treasure trove of sensible advice and inspiring ideas.

Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love. Dr. Edward Sri breaks down John Paul II's Theology of the Body in a practical, accessible format. I have yet to read all of it, but many of my friends swear by it as a way to understand the opposite sex and the marriage vocation! (Thanks for recommending it, Stephanie!)

Marriage and the Mystery of Faithful Life. Dietrich von Hildebrand offers a great—and short!—exploration of keeping the love alive in your marriage. (Thank you, Katrina, for the suggestion!)

Catholic brides will especially enjoy the lovely website Captive the Heart, a great resource that Stephanie has put together. She has book reviews of most of the books mentioned here!

Married and engaged friends: any other suggestions for good marriage reading?

7. Finally, another stellar tip from a married friend. Whenever you start to worry about things going wrong, ask Our Lady of the Wedding Feast at Cana to watch over your wedding and make sure everything runs smoothly. From what I hear, she has quite the track record of noticing if there's a problem at the wedding and getting Jesus to resolve it... before the bride and groom ever notice a thing. Could there be a better patroness? :)

Well, that's everything I've learned in my first six months of being engaged. Maybe after the wedding is over, I'll come back with "Advice for Engaged Couples: Part 2."

Please add advice and tips in the comments section!


  1. As far as reading suggestions: "By Love Refined" by Alice von Hildebrand is a must-read. I've actually read it several times (though not since I got engaged...probably time to fix that!), and I get something new out of it every time.

    I think that delegating and splitting things up is an absolute must. I tend to be really bad at that, and then I get crushed by the (self-imposed) weight of all the decisions I have to make. Knowing that Johnny is taking care of all the Mass planning, my bridesmaids are finding their own dresses, etc. helps me out a lot.

    1. Wow, that's a brilliant suggestion. Thanks!! I read By Love Refined a while back (before I was even dating Frank, go figure) and really loved it. As you said, it's one to go back to again and again. I'll add it!

      Good call on the splitting up tasks. Knowing I can delegate certain things to my mom or Frank makes everything easier. :)

  2. My biggest advice would be to stay away from Pinterest! It's so easy to get all these ideas in your head, take on completely unnecessary craft projects, and get super stressed out. I'm so glad it wasn't around when we were engaged!

    1. Such a good point, Caitlin! I actually declared a "boycott on bridal magazines" at the beginning of my engagement for this exact reason, and I try to extremely limit my reliance on Pinterest (and only use it for ideas that aren't time-consuming crafts!). This is a really, really good point!

    2. Totally in agreement with Pinterest! Sometimes I'm bummed that it wasn't around while I was planning my wedding, but other times, knowing myself too well, I'm really grateful. =)

      At the risk of sounding self-promotional, my blog, Captive the Heart, is written with Catholic brides in mind, and I write a book review every month--I've actually read all of these except (fail) the Catechism, and written about most of them, as well. I also really love Dr. Edward Sri's breakdown of Love and Responsibility, called "Men, Women, And the Mystery of Love." I'm in the process of adding tags to my posts, so that all of the book reviews can be grouped, but until then, they're all part of a feature called "Lectio."


    3. Stephanie, thank you so much for adding your link! I've used your blog a few times in the past and it's just darling, and so helpful. I'll definitely add a link to it in the post, and add the book you recommended to the list! Thanks!

  3. Love this! Thank you ever so much for being there for me. I honestly was so lost!

    1. Thank YOU for asking me for advice - I felt so honored to be the person you turned to! And I even got a blog post out of it. ;)

      I can't wait to witness your wedding, which I know will be so beautiful, and even more, I can't wait to witness the incredible marriage that will follow it. Love you dear Anna!

  4. I meant to comment when you first posted this, but didn't! I loved Dietrich von Hildebrand's Marriage and the Mystery of Faithful Love. So good. And it's nice and short!

    1. Ah, thank you, Katrina! This sounds wonderful and I've heard it recommended by others. Adding a link to it now!

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