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A Big Wedding Day, A Big House or a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime?

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Husband and wife hugging near new home
© alfa27/Adobe Stock
Should couples invest the most resources in a dream wedding day, a dream house or a dream relationship — one that lasts for a lifetime?

Would you rather spend $35,000 on your dream wedding day or as a down payment on your dream home? That’s the question the new Netflix “Marriage or Mortgage” show asks real-life couples.

As the future spouses on the show consider grand staircases, wedding dance choreography lessons costing $3,200 or fountains of ranch dressing, the show’s real estate agent and wedding planner compete for the couple’s final choice.

“How do we pick between the day we deserve and the future?” says one man in the reality TV show’s trailer, while a woman bemoans, “I’m giving up one dream for another.” But this hybrid of “Say Yes to the Dress” and “House Hunters” forgets to ask one important question: Who cares about the wedding or a house if you’re not still together in 10 years?

If you want your marriage to last, then think beyond the wedding day and real estate, says Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

Ask yourselves, “What’s the priority?” Is it a dream wedding day, a dream house or a dream relationship — one that lasts for a lifetime?

“I think this show underscores culturally how we view preparing for marriage, and preparation is virtually nonexistent,” Smalley says. “I encourage couples to ask themselves: ‘Are we preparing for a day or are we preparing for a lifetime?’ ”

With the average wedding cost at $33,900 (pre-COVID-19), these special days are big business and big pressure, especially on debt-laden younger couples.

“It’s ridiculous to spend $35,000 on a wedding,” Smalley says, “because the flowers, the gown, the wedding venue — they won’t keep you together. I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate this sacred covenant, just prioritize.”

With many younger couples still paying off college loans or other debt, immediately adding a mortgage might not help a relationship succeed either, he notes.

Choose marriage, mortgage … or counseling?

Smalley encourages couples to first invest in Christian counseling to prepare themselves for a relationship that’s meant to be lifelong.

Given the chance, he would recast the “Marriage or Mortgage” show to include a year of counseling. Six months of premarital counseling and then six months of counseling after the wedding day would help couples work through the “truckload of junk” everyone has, he says.

Smalley recommends taking a premarital inventory and working through it with a counselor. A good counselor will help you take a close look at your family of origin and recognize what issues are likely to cause conflicts in your relationship.

And there will be conflicts. At the beginning of a relationship, couples are often blissfully unaware that marriage struggles will come along. Yet 1 Corinthians 7:28 reminds us that “those who marry will have worldly troubles.” That’s a fact most parents recognize, so Smalley suggests they consider making counseling part of their wedding gift.

Expect an amazing journey

Smalley knows all about journeys — the marriage kind and the mountain kind. And he says there are similarities. He and his wife, Erin, live at the base of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

“What I want for you is to keep your eye on that 14,115-foot summit. That’s where you’re headed in your marriage journey. Your goal is to spend the rest of your life climbing toward the peak. That’s your job — to climb together.

“Know that along the way, there are going to be some amazing times when you stop and picnic at an overlook and see God’s beauty. And there will be moments when you walk next to a stream, and you’ll be laughing and having deep conversations. There’s going to be so many fun times along the hike.

“There are also going to be times when you’re bouldering, when you’re slipping on gravel, when you trip and fall into a creek. You’re going to go through hard times as well, because it’s all a part of this amazing journey called marriage.”

Take the right equipment

Much like hiking in the mountains, it’s easier to survive tough seasons and experiences in a marriage if you have the right equipment at the beginning of your adventure.

“The first time I ever climbed a ‘fourteener’ (a Colorado mountain with an elevation of 14,000 feet or more), I knew nothing about it,” Smalley explains. “I wore tennis shoes and a cotton undershirt and sweatshirt. I had a protein bar and a plastic bottle of water.”

Smalley soon learned that he was ill-equipped for hiking to the top of Mount Elbert in August.

“On that trip I slipped and tripped. I banged my knee. I fell into a creek and got my shoes totally wet. We hit a snowstorm, and I was freezing to death. I lost a toenail on that hike because I was wearing the wrong shoes. I was so unprepared for that journey.”

Now he’s prepared for mountains. Over the years, he’s summitted 25 Colorado peaks.

“Now I have the best climbing shoes for me along with the right socks and shirts that pull the moisture away from my skin. I have poles and a hydration backpack; I have the right maps.

“The point is, there’s a big difference between being prepared and just showing up and starting the climb. Your friends and family can throw you a big wedding day at the trailhead of marriage and cheer you on, but are you equipped for the actual journey?”

A good Christian counselor who specializes in couples work is vital to being ready for the wedding day, Smalley stresses. It’s the “right equipment” to take into your marriage. “Don’t just read a book or go to an event. We all need help. And getting counseling doesn’t mean you’re a psycho or a freak.”

Marriage is the best journey on earth, Smalley says, so why not be properly equipped for it?

Plan for a lifelong adventure

After 29 years Smalley is still enjoying his journey with Erin, and he wants your adventure to last too, well past the wedding day and first house purchase. “I want you to do this well and enjoy it, because the only thing that matters is the hike itself — the marriage. You’re going to spend 40, 50, 60, 70 years doing this journey. I want you to have the best one you can possibly have.”

So don’t set yourself up for failure by skipping the preparation. By all means, dream about that wedding day and future home — but think long term.

“My dream is to be somewhere up on that mountain with Erin when I’m old. We’ve got a bunch of family with us — the kids and the grandkids — and we’re celebrating and looking at the view. I turn to Erin and say, ‘Man, I’m so happy we got to do this together.’ I love the moments when we stop and say, ‘Look how high up we are!’ ”

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