The most exciting time in a couple’s life, their wedding, is full of planning. Here, our dynamic parenting and relationship expert, Dr. Miranda Fernande Walichowski shares how to streamline the process for more joy on the big day
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate then when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
– Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
THE BEST IS YET TO BE
As soon as the words Will you marry me? are spoken, the beautiful sentiment of two hearts coming together as one becomes disrupted. All of a sudden two hearts encompass a legion of family, friends, acquaintances. Furthermore, a plethora of complementary and conflicting expectations, values, and customs become part of the tumultuous convergence. This stressful stage is known as wedding planning.
Wedding planning is stressful for two reasons. First, the practical aspects of wedding planning can be challenging. At times, brides may want to recreate a fairytale that they have entertained since they were little girls. They may also feel that as the wedding goes, so will the marriage. There is undue pressure to make things perfect. Every detail that would have seemed inconsequential in any other context suddenly seems like a pivotal factor in whether the couple has an auspicious start to the married life.
It becomes important for the couple to meet weekly and openly express what they are feeling during the wedding planning process. The couple can learn how to “hold space” for each other to be able to express freely what they are feeling and the concerns they have. It is important that the couple not dismiss the feelings of the other and it is equally important that they do not try to fix the problem that is being articulated. Instead, for effective communication, the couple should practice seeking to understand what the other person is saying. Once an individual feels heard and understood, then they can proceed with finding solutions. This practice begins to establish a pattern for effective communication.
Oftentimes the idea of two hearts as one, leads some enthusiastic individuals to believe that what they pine for must be what their future spouse wholeheartedly desires. An engaged couple does well to articulate the vision for the wedding. Here are some questions that can be used to gain clarity on expectations and vision:
- What is an ideal wedding size (number of guest and venue?
- What is the wedding budget?
- What is the feel that we would like for our wedding?
- What are the non-negotiables, those things that are wholeheartedly desired?
- What are the things that are not as critical to our wedding vision?
- What external pressures are present (expectations and wishes of family members and friends)?
- How can we set boundaries so that the wedding planning is not usurped by well-meaning family members and friends?
- What memories do we want to create for ourselves during the wedding?
- What memories do we want to create for our guests?
- How do we want the wedding planning process to represent our future life together?
LOVE FOR A LIFETIME
Drs. John Julie Gottman from the Gottman Institute give us good insight into the second reason weddings can be stressful. Drs. Gottman have studied relationships for a lifetime. They have worked with over 7,000 couples in the research and intervention work that they do. Because of their extensive clinical research, testing of theories, and intervention praxis, they can predict with 93.6 percent accuracy whether a given couple will divorce. The most determining indicator of marital success or failure is how the couple handles high-pressure conflict or contention.
When there is conflict or contention, it is because someone feels that his or her values are not being upheld or considered. Also, feeling a discrepancy between an expectation and what seems to be the current reality contributes to conflict and contention. For most individuals, arguments are more about feeling respected and understood rather than being right or wrong.
About 2.3 million couples wed per year in the US. If all those couples understood that the wedding planning process is a microcosm of married life, marriages would be stronger. Wedding stress channeled towards creating opportunities for open and honest communication is the best thing that any couple can do. A life-long marriage is sustained when the couple seeks to understand the values and expectations of the other and learns to address conflict without contempt.
If you are in the throes of wedding planning, do not fret about the details of the wedding day itself. Learn to manage competing values, interests, expectations, and ideas. The couple who learns to handle conflict well will be the couple that has no “you,” no “I,” but “us.” Moreover, a synergistic relationship will resonate profoundly and manifest itself beatifully during the wedding day, for a beautiful ceremony that will be remembered fondly by all.