I’m happy to know and work with some people who are now engaged and looking forward to being wed within the year. You would think that this engagement period, leading up to the realities of marriage, would be such a happy, idyllic time. That big question mark about who you’ll be sharing your life with has been answered and you can relax in the knowledge that you’ve found “The One” for you. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth for most couples because engagements periods tend to be very stressful.
At this time, people who are already busy and already have a full-time job take on what can feel like the second job of planning a wedding. There are engagement parties, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and lots of vendors – all looking to get the most money from you – to deal with. This is definitely a time when you see who, whether friends or family, steps up to help you with details from large, such as finding a dress or helping with expenses, to small, such as picking place settings and bridal party gifts. Just as important, it’s a time to see how you and your fiancé handle problems together. Adding to this mix are parents who may be acting out their own issues regarding your wedding.
So here are some tips to help you keep sane during your engagement:
1. Focus on the meaning of your wedding.
The real meaning of your wedding is that you are declaring your love for this person and that you intend to walk through life together. You are inviting those people who are most important to you and most supportive of you to witness and share in this joyous event. That is the meaning that you have to hang on to when family, friends, and vendors are pulling you in different directions. Nothing else is as important as the fact that you have made this decision, and colors and flowers and seating arrangements pale in comparison to the grand scheme of this underlying message, which you can’t lose sight of. In those moments of pre-wedding stress, when you feel exhausted, anxious, or frustrated remember what you have in the person you are marrying and that you are lucky indeed to have found this person. Put into your own words what the deeper meaning of your wedding is to you and let it guide your way like a bright light on what can be the gray days of wedding planning.
2. Be clear about your vision for the wedding
Perhaps you are someone who has been dreaming about your wedding since you were a child. Or, perhaps you’re someone who figured it would happen someday but never really thought about the details. Well the time has come to envision what you want your ceremony and reception to be like. (I’m going to write as if your format will be a separate ceremony and reception as this is the most common.) Your vision is unique and may include colors and seasons, such as a fall wedding with yellow and burnt orange hues. Or, it may include the feeling that you’d like everyone to experience, such as joy and celebration through fun music and decadent food. Or it may have to do with a place that you enjoy, such asVenice, and having food and wine that evokes that location. Or, it may have a theme built around an activity that you and your fiancé enjoy, such as sailing. You don’t have to become a certified wedding planner, you just have to remember the underlying message of your wedding and think of how you would like to present it. Part of what makes weddings so difficult to plan is that there is no limit to your options. That’s why it’s important to have a clear vision before you start dealing with vendors or planners, because you won’t be so easily swayed to have the large extravagant and formal wedding when what you really envisioned and wanted to share with your loved ones was a huge outdoor picnic with relaxed food and a great band. Your budget must also be incorporated into your vision; you could say it’s the reality check on your vision. To begin with just let yourself freely imagine what you would like for your wedding, and then be prepared to make adjustments as your see how much things cost. Keep your budget realistic because going over budget will only increase your stress and keep in mind that you’re planning to have a life together, not just one big party together. There’s a great quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Remember that people won’t necessarily remember the wine vintage or the cake filling or any other small details. What they will remember is how they felt at the event, hopefully happy and having a fun time celebrating.
3. Communicate with family and maintain firm boundaries
Ah parents, no matter how old you get they still see you as a 10-year old. The fact that you are getting married and there is going to be a ceremony that says in essence, “These two people love each other and are now going to be their own family,” can be hard for a parent to bear. It usually boils down to an issue of control. You are no longer someone’s little girl or the son for whom no one is good enough. One way of hanging on to you is for a parent to act out their feelings – often around wedding planning details. It’s almost shocking to hear the stunts that some parents pull. So instead of making wedding planning easier for you they are adding to the stress. If you are receiving financial help from your parents for the wedding, then you may be in a tougher spot as you try to make decisions to please them and yourself.
As in all relationships, the situation can be helped by honest and straightforward communication. If you have a good relationship with a parent or parents, you can speak to them about the stress that you are feeling. Let them know if what they are doing, even though well-intentioned, is making your feel more stressed, anxious, tense, or whatever you are feeling. You can ask for their help, whether it’s helping you with planning or relaxing about what it is that they want incorporated into the wedding. You can address the underlying issue directly by letting them know that you love them and always will. Acknowledge that although marriage is bound to change some things that your love for them will never change and they will always be in your life. Even though they are your parents they can still regress to childlike states due to fear that they are losing you and they just need some reassurance that they will still be in your life and aren’t losing you. If you suspect there is another issue going on, such as disapproval of your fiancé or problems in their own relationship, then you can also address that directly and clear the air so that the issue is not being acted out within your wedding process.
If you don’t have a good relationship with one or both of your patents, then you still have to communicate clearly by words and actions and maintain firm boundaries about what behavior you’ll tolerate. If you’ve tried talking with them in the past only to find that it makes no difference and only leaves you feeling hurt, disappointed, and unheard, then go ahead and make your decisions based on what you think is best and what your vision for the wedding is. If it seems necessary to give an explanation, keep it brief. It can be given before, or even better, after the decision is made. Like the saying, “It’s easier to apologize than to ask for permission.” You have a lot to do and have limited energy and patience to deal with nonsense. If your parents are very controlling and throw their own version of a tantrum, then realize that this is likely always their reaction to not getting their way, i.e. you’ve seen them do this before, and you’re not going to change them at this late date. You can still try to talk to them about how they will always be in your life, but it’s not necessary to set yourself up for disappointment if you know how the conversation will go because you’ve already tried this before.
4. Always consider your fiancé your ally
These wedding preparations are just the first in many stressful events that will occur during your marriage. It’s good practice to start dealing with problems as a team rather than turning against each other. Right now you’re in love and the wedding is of your own choosing, but life is going to send you unexpected problems that you are going to have to handle. If you want your marriage to last, you had better start learning to handle them together. When huge problems or tragedies strike couples either turn toward each other for strength or turn away from each other; there’s just no in between in times of crisis. Planning a wedding certainly isn’t a time of crisis, but it is stressful and I see how couples in love begin to make small, seemingly innocent, disparaging remarks about each other, which they think are harmless. Such as, “He doesn’t know how to handle his mother,” or “She freaks out when she has one too many things on her plate.” These remarks do not build an attitude of “Thank goodness it’s you and me in this together.” They instead demonstrate an attitude of, “I now have more work because I have to handle you too.” If you have opinions about how he handles his mother and some suggestions, then voice them because otherwise this irritating situation will continue into your marriage. If you think she gets anxious easily, then speak to her about it and how the two of your can best handle things together when things are stressful. Through openly discussing these issues with each other, rather than making small snide remarks to others, you can figure out better ways to handle these situations. I’m not saying that you can change who they are, if he’s someone who really values his mother’s opinion or if she gets anxious when under stress then this isn’t likely to change, but their behavior can change. He can refrain from immediately saying yes to his mother’s suggestions and she can learn to ask for help when she begins to feel overwhelmed by too many tasks. You hopefully love and accept your fiancé just as he or she is on the inside, but behavior on the outside can be changed if it’s beneficial for your relationship.
So congratulations to all of you engaged couples! I hope that these tips help you to avoid being overwhelmed by pre-wedding stress and keep you focused on the joy of finding that wonderful person with whom you’re going to share your life.