Q: We never had a honeymoon. How can we plan the perfect one?

Honeymoons are celebrations of life and love. They can make you feel a range of emotions that are unique to you. For example, you might feel lucky, blessed, excited, strong, safe or triumphant that you overcame your past. Your honeymoon can serve as one of the building blocks in your memory bank of your togetherness. When the going gets rough, for instance, I often ask couples to imagine the good times that made them feel like a strong, happy, and well-oiled team.  Many of the couples called up images of their honeymoon. In other words, honeymoons can function as reassurance that you chose the right partner.  This confirmation can re-ignite closeness and reduce the temporary negativity from disagreements and differences. 

Naturally, one couple's ideal honeymoon is another couple's nightmare, but here is a guide for how to increase your pleasure and build your positive memory bank and foundation.

1. Don't go on a honeymoon when you are stressed out. Oops--that statement should make you think twice about going away immediately after the wedding. Wedding planning is often extremely stressful. You have to squeeze your dream plans into a budget, struggle with whom to invite or leave out, play "musical tables" about who should sit next to--or far away--from a guest or family member, and juggle your needs with those of each of your families. 

Wow, any one of those items could impinge on your joy. And just in case those issues aren't enough to hike up your stress, throw in drunken guests, sarcastic toasts, fights with parents, and all the things that could go wrong at the wedding such as disappointment in the decorations or food.  You don't want your honeymoon to be tainted with intense negative emotions. 

Now you can see why delaying your honeymoon by weeks or months can be a wiser idea. And sometimes life just won't stay on hold when you want it to. For instance, there's no point going away when your work load is high or your children want you to attend their first piano recital.

Similarly, don't plan delayed honeymoons while you are under high degrees of stress such as fighting more or experiencing too many changes in your job or financial stress. The anticipation of finally going away can be exhilarating, but researching flights, hotel rooms, and destinations can also drain you.  Soon, what seemed like a good idea a while ago feels like a chore.

High stress levels take time to calm down. They can eat up your precious time on your honeymoon.For example, two mornings of sleeping in sounds great, but too many days of chilling out can backfire and drain you instead. I recommend waiting to take your honeymoon until you feel excited--not exhausted.

2. Don't turn your honeymoon into "medicine" for reducing your stress or your disappointment and doubts about your partner. Honeymoons are celebrations--not fantasy-fixes for your problems. Regardless of where--or when--you go, honeymoons work best when you don't regard them as a "cure" for your unhappiness.

You certainly don't want to create unrealistic expectations of your honeymoon experience.  After all, any vacation is a breeding ground for disappointment. The hotel room was not "special" enough, the flight was delayed or the airline lost your luggage. Imagine trying to withstand those snafus while under duress.  You don't want to be tempted to manage your dashed hopes by over-spending or drinking too much. Instead, resolve your issues first and then plan your honeymoon as a celebration of the two of you.

3. Balance fantasy with the practical. You don't need to have the "honeymoon of the century." The specialness of the honeymoon actually resides in how you think and feel about it-and not where you go. Over-the-top honeymoons tend to require too much money, time, and aggravation! 

Strike a balance between fantasy and practicality. Evaluate your budget, how much time you want-or can spend away from home and work, and what percentage of your time that you want to spend on getting to your destination.

Choose destinations that appeal or have personal meaning to you. One of my couples, for instance, met while on a business trip to Nashville. They decided to spend their honeymoon in that city. Their friends were in shock. "Nashville?" they said. "Aren't there any other places you'd rather go?" But, no, they wanted to replay that moment when they caught each other's eye.   

4. Don't let other people or society define what your honeymoon should be. It's your honeymoon! If you want to travel with friends, your children or family members, then do it!  You determine what will make you happy. I know many couples who made their honeymoon a celebration of joy with friends and family. To paraphrase Mark Twain, grief is a private experience, but joy is best shared.

5. Don't turn your honeymoon into "proof" of your success and validation of your self-worth. Truly confident people don't need to brag or show off. Yet, I can't begin to tell you how many people put out tremendous effort to have a honeymoon that makes others envious. One of the couples I counseled had heated arguments about where to go. He wanted to go "where there are no crowds or tourists." His bride-to-be said, "Well, then, maybe those places aren't worth going to." 

They couldn't resolve their differences in honeymoon locations, and sought my advice. I asked him several questions about his honeymoon fantasy, and the questions prompted him to say, "I guess I want to go to one of those 'undiscovered' places that you always read about-and then come back to my friends and describe this unique experience that they never had."

I thought about his words and the meaning behind them. After a pause I asked, "So it's respect from others that you're looking for?"  He nodded his head yes, and I said, "I am wondering just what it is that could be disrespectful about you, your life and your past."  I saw the light bulb go off in his head.  He said, "I have this motor in me that makes me run as far away as possible from being like my father.  He's a passive man who's willing to be ordinary." 

He realized that he wanted this honeymoon to serve as a barricade against being like his dad. Here he was about to get married, start a family, and buy a house. The more his path placed him in the same footsteps of his father, the more his anxiety about turning into his father compelled him to have an astounding honeymoon to establish his individuation from his father. As soon as he recognized his submerged forces, he was able to choose a location that pleased both of them-even though it was a popular place.

Don't make a similar mistake. Your honeymoon is a celebration and one of your contributions to your personal memory bank of love.  This bank grows richer from the positive emotional deposits that you make at any time in your life.  So, it's never too late to go on honeymoons!

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships. For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com. Also on her website, if you donate $5 to Habitat for Humanity-Sarasota, Florida, you can receive a download of her relationship advice cartoon book for women, "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie."