How to Avoid Wedding Stress and Be a Smart Bride:
Over-the-Top Wedding Plans Can Reveal Bottom-of-the-Barrel Feelings
Weddings and the accompanying engagement parties and showers can get stressful and out of hand for many reasons. Here are the top reasons why planning weddings may not be as fun as you hope—and some wedding tips about what you can do about managing this wedding stress now.
1. You need to feel loved by your parents.
In my research, many women who wanted elaborate weddings and other related celebrations hoped that the even would make them finally feel love from their parents. The celebrations became the woman’s way of finally “getting something” from unhappy childhoods of divorced, neglectful, negative, abusive or absent parents. Many brides-to-be who were not the “favorite child” especially longed for “spectacle” parties where the glare of being in the spotlight for even a few hours or days might overcome their feelings of being unloved. Some brides felt a “gotcha” effect—they finally were able to squeeze some effort, money and attention from their parents and family. After all, the brides silently reasoned, how could my family deny me “my day?”
Yet, putting all your unhatched love-eggs in the one basket of wedding related celebrations usually only leaves you with rotten eggs. Don’t expect these events to make up for anything. One stress-busting wedding tip to test whether you are looking for love in all the wrong places is to pretend that, in addition to the wedding, you are having only one other related celebration such as an engagement party or bridal shower and that your wedding is small, warm, tasteful but no way near “over-the-top” either in expense or in image.
In addition, you agree to give up or greatly modify your “dream wedding” of being married on an island, mountain top or at the latest “in place.” Can you live with these limitations? Or, do you suddenly feel a big dip of disappointment, despair and depression?
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate the lack of love you feel from your parents? Now examine all your reactions and see what you’ve learned. Remember, weddings can’t make up for past hurts. Events are too short-lived to make up for anything—only a positive change in the long-term interactions between you and your family can do that.
Finally, pay attention to the amount of friction you feel and the number of squabbles you experience with your parents. Wedding plans often accentuate or re-ignite submerged and unresolved childhood feelings. But don’t think that a wedding can resolve these problems. Instead, see these heated disagreements as a sign that you have some personal issues that you need to address within yourself and your family over time. Seek pre-marital counseling and vow to continue working on these areas after you are married. Happy couples are able to understand, manage and change their family relationships and not re-enact them in the marriage.
2. You want your wedding planning to show others from your childhood how far you’ve come in life.
The more outrageously expensive and exclusive (the WOW! Factor) of the event, the more the woman hoped it would erase and redo any previous, unwanted images of herself from others. “Putting on the Ritz” serves the same emotional purpose of the unpopular, ugly duckling who makes it big, turns into a swan and then goes to her high school reunion. These inflated celebrations are the equivalent of sticking out your tongue and going “Nyah, nyah.”
But this “going overboard wedding plan" is just a flash-in-the-pan shortcut to feeling valued, special and attractive. The general rule of thumb is that the more lavish and over-planned the event, the more negative the self-talk is inside the head of the bride. If you felt ugly, misunderstood or overlooked, then a big deal feels like the best medicine. But the real medicine is how you live your life.
To test whether you are asking your wedding to make up for the past, try this wedding stress tip. Make a list of how many times you’ve said or thought “if only Heather, Samantha, Tiffany or whoever could see me.” Also, keeping a journal can uncover feelings about yourself and your past hurts. Finally, chart your “disappointments” when your plans don’t match your fantasy. No wedding is perfect—and no event can ever fill the hole in your soul. Smart brides don't add more stress to their weddings by expecting a wedding to heal the past.
3. You and your family want your wedding plan to show the world how far you’ve come in life—or
how much you now “belong” in the upper class. Shame about former socio-economic status and class can also put pressure on a bride and her family to have an over-the-top event. If your family’s country-club or business set has seen wedding parties of twelve bridesmaids, then it feels like a “lesser” celebration not to at least match the event. When your wedding has to "prove something," you add more stress.
A smart bride decides NOT to compete with these “others.” Understated events always win. Keep it simple and warm. The WOW factor in weddings is not necessarily based on big bands with poor imitations of original songs, elaborate table settings, gowns and banquet halls. Guests want to come away feeling happy, joyful and included. Think back on weddings you’ve attended where the band was too loud to hear the person sitting next to you, where the food was served with too formal and cold an air, where you felt “stuck” at your table and where the awesomeness of the event made you feel diminished and left out rather than part of the celebration.
One of my smart bride clients who came from an upper class family decided to avoid “keeping up with the Joneses.” On her wedding gift registry she listed favorite charities for her guests to donate to instead. Her centerpieces consisted of a wreath of silk flowers where each guest could pluck one to wear. In addition, she placed a small picture frame for each couple to take home. The buffet consisted of both fancy food and childhood comfort foods. One part of the buffet featured game meat and shellfish, and various stations offered pasta, pizza, meatloaf, turkey, cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies. Guess which food the people liked the best?
Smart brides know that no one event can make up for past hurts. These smart brides recognize that wedding stress and family issues go hand-in-hand. Smart brides acknowledge these issues and work hard to face them and manage them over time. They recognize that family relations, especially, usually include unresolved feelings. These brides, with the support of their new husbands, work together to improve and heal past family issues. Smart families of the bride also spend less on the wedding and put more money aside for buying a home or making investments—and leave a little bit for a uniquely personal (but not over-the-top) honeymoon.
Dr.LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, MA
Nationally noted Psychologist and Social Worker, Lic. as Clinical Social Worker, SW 7132 FL; 3941 MA; 2850 MD.
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University of Massachusetts, Doctorate in Adult Developmental Psychology; Bryn Mawr College, Master in Clinical Social Service; Georgetown University Medical School: The Family Center, three years-post graduate training in marriage and family with the internationally esteemed Dr. Murray Bowen; Ohio University, Masters in English; Carnegie-Mellon University, Bachelor in History and English.
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