I was talking with a woman (who I will call “Anna”) who recently became engaged. She was the only daughter in her family and was marrying a man she knew well and really cared for. Rather than expressing the giddy nervousness typically seen in young brides-to-be, Anna came to me slump-shouldered. The only part of her upcoming wedding that brought a sparkle to her eyes was when she talked about her fiancé. Although Anna admitted that she’d fantasized about being a bride since she was a teenager, her wedding planning was really bringing her down. I soon learned that Anna’s parents were paying for the wedding and they had the financial means to do so. Anna was especially close to her mother and part of her wedding fantasies included planning her wedding with her mom. But, as so often happens with fantasies, they rarely hold up to the challenges of real life. Anna felt that her mother had completely taken over the planning process and Anna felt powerless to say anything for fear of causing a rift between herself and her mom.
Anna’s dilemma may resonate with others in the planning stages of their weddings. Well-meaning but overbearing loved ones can taint wedding planning which has the potential to be a bonding experience preceding a wonderful lifecycle event. Here are a few things to consider:
Becoming someone’s wife or husband signals a change in roles. The daughter becomes a wife, the son becomes a husband. When Anna was a child she needed her parents’ guidance around making big decisions. Although Anna was still her parents’ daughter, she is not a child. Anna did not need her mother’s guidance about every detail of her wedding, she wanted her mother’s guidance and suggestions. It was important for Anna and her mother to acknowledge this subtle but important shift. Planning a wedding can involve a lot of decision-making and can cause existing roles to bump up against newly emerging ones.
Whether your wedding budget is $300 or $35,000 talking (or not talking) about money can be stressful. In some families, talking about money is “impolite” while others associate money with workaholic parents, “not having enough,” or as a way of one family member holding power over another. When I asked Anna if her parents gave her the money for her wedding to spend as she saw fit or if there were “strings” attached, Anna admitted there had been no conversation around whether her parents were “silent partners” in the wedding planning or “majority shareholders” who get the final (only?) say about the guest list, ceremony, reception, etc. I encouraged Anna to ask her parents specific questions about the money they were offering (just as she would ask a bank for specific terms when taking out a loan). While the conversation may be awkward, I was confident that it would help clarify “who was in charge” of the wedding planning.
And finally, folks who are overly anxious or detailed-oriented in their everyday lives can find themselves struggling to work collaboratively when it comes to wedding planning. In the book Neurotic Styles, author David Shapiro describes an obsessive-compulsive style of insisting that the world be in order that can emerge not only in “bridezillas” but in others closely involved in the planning of weddings. At worst, it can wipe out the joy of the event itself or curtail the bride’s, groom’s, or loved one’s ability to appreciate all that is happening at this watershed moment in their lives.
It is always my hope that my clients put as much care and concern into their marriages as they do into the planning of their weddings. While wedding planning can be stressful for brides and grooms and other family members, it can also be a rewarding experience if folks take the time to consider the impact of changing roles, stymied communication (especially around money), and existing personality styles. Regardless of the lifecycle event, mental health professionals can be great assets for getting a new perspective on troubling situations or behaviors.
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