Do you stress over dresses, fret over flowers, and worry about wedding cakes? You may be suffering from PMS – premarital stress. The planning time before a wedding is an exciting time, but it can also be fraught with stress, anxiety and conflict. How will you ever manage to do everything? What if you and your fiance can’t agree on all the plans? And what if your mother is determined to have the wedding of her dreams? Elopement can start to look pretty good.
Take a deep breath. There are a few ways to minimize the emotional wear and tear. Think of wedding planning as a dress rehearsal for marriage. It’s your opportunity to sort out issues of divided loyalties and new social roles. All it takes is focus on communication, compromise and consideration.
One of the greatest sources of anxiety is the desire to make everything perfect. “For most brides-to-be, the stress factor increases in direct relation to the expectations they have for their wedding,” says Les Parrott, Ph.D., who along with his wife, Leslie, is author of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts and editor of Getting Ready for the Wedding. The bigger your dreams, the greater the letdown when real life fails to live up to them.
The answer may be as simple as scaling down your expectations. Instead of aiming for an absolutely perfect day, plan for a “merely” terrific one. Naturally, you want things to go as smoothly as possible, but expect the unexpected. There are bound to be blunders along the way, and often these make up the stories you’ll still be laughing about at your 50th wedding anniversary party.
Seeing the humor today can be quite another matter, but try. “As you plan your wedding there will be times when you want to laugh or cry. Choose to laugh,” says Parrott. “Ten years from now, you won’t remember the little hitches, but you will remember the emotional tone surrounding this sacred day. Make sure it’s positive.”
Sometimes a problem arises when a lifelong fantasy comes up against hard financial reality. The fact is, that storybook wedding to Prince Charming probably would cost upwards of $100,000 in today’s money. As a result, most couples wind up having to make some adjustments based on what they and their families can afford.
The key to avoiding disappointment and frustration is staying focused on what’s important. It’s okay if you have a less-than-perfect dress, a hairdo that turns out too big, or a stone in your ring that’s too small. All that really matters is that you wind up married to just the right partner.
A Marriage of Minds
Of course, it’s not all up to you. So many people have a stake in your wedding – you, the groom, both sets of parents, other family members, close friends – that conflicts are inevitable. Your top priority should be to sort out any differences of opinion with your partner first.
Parrott suggests this exercise: Rate the depth of your feeling about an issue on a 1-to-10 scale, where 1 is, “I’m not enthusiastic, but it’s no big deal to me,” and 10 is, “Over my dead body!” (A “conflict card” with the full rating scale can be downloaded for free from the Parrotts’ website at www.RealRelationships.com.) Have your partner do the same. Compare your responses and see where there might be room for compromise.
For example, let’s say you rate an issue a 3, and your partner rates it a 7. This might be something you could give on relatively easily. “Rating the depth of your disagreement puts it in perspective,” says Parrott. If you both give a particular issue a high rating and neither of you feels able to budge from that position, you might need to get some objective, outside help with the problem from a counselor or minister.
Even if you both see eye to eye on most issues, however, the sheer number of decisions you have to make can seem overwhelming at times, blowing even the “1’s” out of proportion. You need to decide everything from where you’ll get married to what you’ll wear to whom you’ll invite to the wedding, and you have a limited amount of time in which to do so.
It may help to think of this as boot camp for the marriage itself. This is your big chance to prove to everyone – including yourselves – that you can make good joint decisions about money and family. It’s your opportunity to try on new loyalties and social roles. And there really is no time like the present to nurture the communication and consideration that will serve you well for the rest of your lives.
Pressure from relatives is another source of prewedding stress. Everyone seems to be ready with an opinion about how things ought to be done. It may help to remind yourself that pushy relatives just want the best for you. Try not to let uninvited advice and opinions get on your nerves. You can always politely listen and smile sweetly now, then later choose to ignore suggestions that aren’t right for you.
Of course, you’ll probably want to honor some wishes to, especially on issues that aren’t high priorities for you and your partner. If your mother really wants you to have a certain kind of music or flowers, and if you and the groom-to-be don’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other, why not agree with her?
The trick is knowing where to draw the line. You and your partner need to decide between yourselves when to make concessions and when to stand firm. “It’s okay to compromise on some issues, but you should stand on your ground on the essentials,” says Stephan Willis, M.MFT, a marriage and family therapist from Abilene, Texas, who also is a minister. “However, you need to be assertive, not aggressive, about it.” This means stating your position in a calm way that still respects the other person’s feelings.
The situation gets touchier when you want one thing, and your parents want another – and they’re the ones footing the bill. If your parents are paying, they have every right to set an upper limit on the budget. Beyond that, though, some parents may need to be reminded that this is your wedding, not theirs. If you let a parent take over at this stage, the pattern could continue into your early marriage and perhaps forever.
Try to understand the parent’s point of view and find a compromise that everyone can live with. If that doesn’t work, however, you and your partner can always opt out of a power struggle by downsizing your wedding plans and paying for everything so the both of you have complete control.
Toward Wedding Bliss
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in all of the preparations that you forget the most important thing: your relationship with your partner. Don’t let that happen. “Continue to go out on dates together and talk about life beyond the wedding,” says Willis. Make time for yourself as well. Listen to music, sit in the park, read a good book, take a bubble bath – do whatever makes you feel pampered. A few quiet moments alone may be just the mini-vacation you need for relaxation.
Now, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and repeat this mantra: My wedding does not have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to please everyone. All it really has to be is a celebration of the love and commitment me and my partner share. Make the occasion meaningful and joyous for the two of you, and you won’t go wrong. After all, it’s not the storybook wedding but the happily ever after marriage that really counts.