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How To Handle A Long Distance Engagement

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Someone proposed, the other person said yes, and you’re now both engaged! Congratulations!

Now you need to figure out how you’re going to get married, and you have a wedding to plan…all while maintaining a long distance relationship.

It’s not easy! However, we’ve done it and came out the other end with a signed marriage certificate and lots of memories.

We’ll go through all the things we wish we knew earlier about how to handle a long distance engagement.

  • Figure out who is going to move
  • Get your finances in order
  • Research marriage laws
  • Decide where the reception is going to be
  • Use a good wedding planning system
  • Avoid planning the whole thing remotely
  • Do pre-marital counselling
  • Make time for each other

Figure out who is going to move

Credit: C. Cagnin

If you haven’t already figured this one out yet, you need to have this conversation.

One thing that’s harder than being a long distance couple is being a long distance married couple.

There are lots of questions to consider when deciding who should make the move to the other person. This includes things like who has more earning potential, who has the more appealing city, and if anyone has family or dependents that need help. You can find out more here.

Now that you’re willing to make the commitment to stay with each other forever, you’ll need to make some compromises. You both need to decide where you’re going to spend the rest of your lives together.

(Having said that, if you’re willing to spend the rest of your lives apart as a married couple…that’s your choice too!)

Get your finances in order

Credit: Karolina Grabowska

If you’re planning an interstate or international move, that’s going to cost money. The average cost of an interstate move is around $4,900. If you’re moving internationally, expect it to be even more. When I moved to the U.S., I sold most of my belongings, but ended up using most of the proceeds to repurchase everything I had sold anyway.

For those who are immigrating to another country, visas aren’t cheap either. The Australian Prospective Marriage Visa costs AUD$7,715 with a wait time of 12-18 months, as an example. Don’t forget your plane tickets, either.

You’ll also need to factor in your wedding costs, as well. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is around $33,900. (This includes the engagement ring, but excludes the honeymoon). Keep in mind this is just an average, so big blowout weddings can skew this number. However, if you’re planning on inviting all the folks for a big party—dress, party, and all—start saving now.

Research marriage laws

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Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to get married, do some research on how a citizen marries a foreigner in that country.

Some countries can impose certain restrictions on who a citizen can marry. For instance, army personnel in active service or diplomats in China are not allowed to marry foreigners. Be sure to read up on any laws or conditions imposed on marrying foreign nationals. Consult an immigration lawyer if you are unsure.

While you’re at it, you should verify any paperwork or official documents needed to register the marriage. In most cases, this can include proof of identity, and proof of eligibility to marry. This is some paperwork that states you’re not already married or proves you’re divorced.

Wedding planners and celebrants can also help you out with any documentation you might need.

Decide where the reception is going to be

The banquet hall where we had our wedding dinner!

The other tough question you’ll both need to decide on is where to hold the reception (if you’re having one).

Both of you will likely want to hold the wedding in your home town, since all their family and friends are there.

It may come down to which location is more effective, the cost of wedding services, family dynamics, and a little bit of compromise as well.

One approach is having the wedding in one person’s city, and then deciding to settle in the other person’s city as a compromise.

If you want to go all out and have two wedding parties, and you have the money to afford it…then go for it!

Alternatively, if you wanted to have a destination wedding, that can be a good compromise too. Just be prepared to pay!

Use a good wedding planning system

Credit: Natasha Fernandez

Planning an international wedding is tough. We’ve been there!

There are hundreds of wedding planners out there. My wife and I used The Ultimate Wedding Planner by The Knot. It covered tiny details like color schemes and themes, right up to breaking down guest tables, invite lists, and wedding registries. By the end of it, both of us hardly went anywhere without this folder.

Keep in mind that certain wedding planning books and binders may be specific to a particular country. Its effectiveness may change depending on where you’ll be holding your wedding.

When we were apart, we used other tools as well. Trello helped us manage our list of tasks with a drag-and-drop interface. We could also sort them into different color-coded categories. Other idea managing tools like Google Keep offer a different approach in a “sticky note” format.

Of course, various video conferencing apps like Google Meet and Skype helped us to do group chats. We had plenty of calls with vendors, wedding celebrants, and family and friends.

Avoid planning the whole thing remotely

Credit: Burst

If you can’t be in the location where the wedding is being held, it’ll be frustrating trying to coordinate all the pieces and elements without actually being there.

When we were apart, my wife was struggling to stay connected to the wedding. She was having a hard time envisioning what was happening because she wasn’t there. On the other hand, I was doing more of the legwork with the vendors.

Sharing lots and lots of photos and video can help build that vision for your partner. Regularly seeking their input and being engaged throughout the whole planning phase instead of just following orders will also help make the other person feel like it’s not all resting on their shoulders.

Of course, there’s just no substitute for actually being there. For the first month, my wife and I spent our time in person scouting locations and gathering quotes. We also found out florist so she could plan her bouquet and venue decoration.

While we were apart, we did tasks like designing invitations and place cards, and researching photographers and bakers to chat with online.

She then returned about two months before the wedding, dress in hand. We both went through a mad dash finalizing details, receiving family and friends at the airport, and putting final touches on everything.

It was a crazy time, but we got through it together. Our friends and family were also a tremendous help. We leaned on them a lot to help get us over the finish line.

Do your best to spend a reasonable amount of time at the wedding location before the big day. It’ll help ensure the event turns out exactly how you planned.

Do pre-marital counselling

Credit: Polina Zimmerman

Whether you’re living apart or together, seeing a pre-martial counsellor can give you a better chance at a stable, satisfying marriage.

The counselor can help you both identify and navigate difficult topics of discussion. They’ll bring up topics such as how you both view your roles in the marriage, your beliefs and values, and how you both deal with problems.

Before we decided to marry, my wife and I talked with a pre-marital counselor while we were still living apart. We found one that was able to do Skype sessions, and we found them fairly helpful. 

He managed to identify a couple of issues that really affected us and how we could go about approaching them.

In our case, we did have to pay for one. However, you may be able to get a discounted rate through your insurance or some other program. 

Make time for each other

Credit: Flora Westbrook

All this planning and worrying about the future will take a toll on you both. It’ll be especially hard while you’re still physically apart and unable to comfort each other in person.

While you’re caught up in the whirlwind of wedding planning and immigration, try and slow down. Block off some days for the two of you to relax and do an activity. Prepare a meal together. Choose a movie or TV show you’ve both been wanting to watch and enjoy it at hte same time.

It’s going to be stressful on both of you. Make sure you keep an eye on each other, and speak up if one of you needs help. Also tap into your support network and talk with them if you need someone else to talk this through with.

It’s an exciting and difficult time. However, remember to slow down and remind yourselves why you’re doing this. The end result is making everything official!