Weddings are stressful. Whether or not you have been
married before, whether you are being married in your home with a few friends
present or in a hotel with a guest list of 500, weddings are stressful.
Recently, a couple scheduled to be married next year called to see if I would do
a private ceremony now and then officiate at their formal ceremony later. For
them, the anxiety caused by planning for the wedding was overshadowing their
relationship. Their wedding was becoming a wedge. Therefore, they thought that
if they could repeat their vows early, it would reduce the loss of control they
Many conditions contribute to wedding stress, not all of
which can be controlled. While there is a trend toward smaller weddings,
especially in remarriages, I do not see that weddings are becoming any less
complex. In our mobile society, more guests are coming from out of town and
require special attention. Parents of the bride and groom are often divorced and
are attending with new friends or spouses. Receptions are no longer just cake
and punch gatherings in the church basement. The bride and/or groom may have
children from previous relationships. And, there are few “official”
guidelines to help structure remarriage celebrations. Put all of this together,
along with the expense of a wedding celebration, and stress becomes inevitable.
There are steps you can take, however, to make your wedding experience not only memorable but enjoyable and, if not stress free, at least manageable.
Tale of Two Weddings
Several months ago, I performed two weddings at the same
beautiful glass chapel in a rustic wooded setting – one in the morning and one
in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative.
Torrential storms started before sunrise and lasted long into the evening. It
was impossible to get from the parking lot to the chapel without getting soaked.
When I arrived at the first wedding I could feel the
tension in the air. Guests kept apologizing for the weather as if someone had
died. The bride was disappointed. The groom, unable to provide any reassurance,
had emotionally withdrawn. My attempts to talk about the “blessings of rain”
and its significance on one’s wedding day did little to add any hopefulness to
the occasion. During the ceremony I felt like I was introducing two strangers
who had not previously met.
Now I’m bright enough to know that more was going on
than just the rain. Nevertheless, what should have been a joyous day with family
and friends, ended up being a disappointment for many of those involved. The
rain simply became a convenient focal point for anxieties that needed an outlet.
(On another occasions the delivery of a white rather than a chocolate wedding
cake as ordered became a similar symbol of disappointment bringing the bride to
Later that afternoon, when I returned for the second
wedding, I didn’t know what to expect. The rain continued to pour and
umbrellas were of little help in the blowing wind. The atmosphere inside the
chapel, however, was totally different. Both the bride and groom were together
greeting the guests after earlier having taken a few family photographs. The
couple and their children had packaged wild flower seeds as gifts for everyone
to take home and plant. During the ceremony, the groom made light of the rain by
announcing that the weather may not have been all they had hoped for but that it
was a good time for planting seeds. I played on this by talking about marriage
not as a one-time ceremony but as a growing relationship of learning to love and
nourish one another over a period of time. I left, as did most of the guests,
with a very hopeful feeling.
Some stress is normal in planning a wedding celebration
and nervousness during the ceremony is expected. However, if your planning
becomes a chore, if you find yourself getting angry at others for not helping,
if your partner is not participating, then it may be time to step back and
rethink what it is that you are doing. Weddings certainly require a great deal
of effort but, at the same time, there should be some joy and fun both in the
preparation and in the celebration.
I would encourage every couple to initially think not so
much about external expectations as about what their own expectations might be
for a wedding celebration. This is not the same as ignoring the opinions and
needs of others, but rather defining what it is you want to accomplish.
Planning, Mutual Goals
When the decision is made to become husband and wife,
take time to fully discuss (and maybe even separately write down) your
expectations. If differences exist, work out some compromises. As wedding plans
progress, also make sure you agree that if significant changes are needed (such
as increasing the guest list from 75 to 150), they will be made jointly. I
continue to be amazed at the number of brides and grooms who fail to realize
that one of the main differences between a first and a subsequent marriage is
not the ceremony, but the degree of mutual participation. Just as a marriage
requires two people, so does the planning for the wedding. Also, if you have
children, include them in the planning.
Most couples initially agree that they want a simple
ceremony with close family and friends present. Unfortunately, outside pressures
often come into play and what starts off as a simple celebration can easily
mushroom into a creature that begins to take on a life of its own.
A previous article presented ways for couples to maintain control of their wedding and reduce expenses (“A Return to Basics: Focusing on the Ceremony and Family,”). As a follow-up I have put together some ideas for further reducing stress and enjoying both the preparation and the wedding event.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
Sometimes marriage plans become so complex that that the
decision is made to just forget about the details and “elope.” While this
might be the easiest thing to do, it omits the bond between family and friends
created by their attendance and participation in the ceremony. Such bonding is
needed to strengthen the support system that marriages require. A good
alternative to the “Las Vegas” wedding is to have a home or small chapel
wedding where the setting limits you to about 35 guests. If desired, a larger
reception can always be held later.
#2: Over Planning
Weddings, like marriages are never completed. The harder
you work, the more you discover other tasks to be done. Relax. Determine early
what things are important and how much you are willing to spend. Don’t let
others make you feel guilty about your choices. Make your big decisions early
– ceremony location, officiant, caterer or reception location, number of
guests to be invited, etc. Determine also what commitment you will have to
flowers, music, style of clothing and photography. Most remarrying couples plan
three to nine months in advance. (Some magazines will promote a longer time
line. However, the longer you wait, the more complex and expensive the wedding
becomes.) Don’t look too closely at those charts that provide a monthly list
of things to do prior to your wedding date. These are normally set up for
first-time weddings and are geared to selling you something you may not need.
#3: Losing Control
Begin with the needs and desires of you and your fiancé,
not the expectations of others. Weddings
are very emotional occasions. And you will find yourself surrounded by family
and friends who have many and often conflicting opinions on what you should be
doing. In a sense you become very vulnerable and it is easy to feel that you are
losing control -- that the wedding is becoming more complex than initially
envisioned. Most weddings do become more complex. That’s why it’s important
to develop early on a plan that you can afford and manage. Let others
participate in helping you based on your agenda, not theirs.
Wedding ceremonies do not need to be long but they do
need to be personal. Take time to let you wedding officiant know something about
the uniqueness of your relationship, how you met, religious traditions that may
differ, etc. Choose to include some
readings that are meaningful to you. Recognize the importance of your children
or family members and friends with the presentation of the Family Medallion.
Acknowledged deceased parents or grandparents. Write your own vows. Personally
thank the guests during the ceremony for their presence.
I have found that most brides and grooms want to say or
do as little as possible during the ceremony. At the same time, those couples
who take the time to do something unique or personal during the service
afterwards express a sense of joy about the ceremony rather than a sense of
relief. The ceremony should be more than a perfunctory “I Do.”
#5: Responding to
A Previous Wedding
So many brides I meet want to plan a wedding different
from their first. This is fine except that plans often begin to focus on a
response to the past rather than a move towards the future. Also, it easily
becomes a one-person show rather than a mutually planned celebration. Do things
differently if you like. If you had a large wedding, have a small ceremony or
vice versa. But do it because the two of you (and possibly your children) want
to do it that way. Don’t let the past continue to control your present
choices. Don’t blame your first wedding for the relationship.
Wedding celebrations are important occasions for bringing
together family and friends and for creating an experience in which the bride
and groom together express their love and commitment to one another. It is a
time, also, for recognizing that two people do not live separately from the rest
of the world and, therefore, a time for acknowledging those who have supported
them in the past and who will continue to support them in the future. Weddings
are family occasions. Anytime you can create a setting in which it is apparent
that two people care for each other, it is a time of celebration, a time of hope
and encouragement for the rest of us as well. Enjoy yourselves and your new life
Your comments, suggestions and questions are welcomed. Dr. Coleman can be contacted directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Clergy Services, Inc., P.O. Box 32333, Kansas City, MO 64171. You may also call 1-800-237-1922.
Weddings: A Family
Affair by Margorie Engel. A Planning Guide for Second Marriages and Couples
with Divorced Parents. Wilshire Publications (1-800-237-1922). $10.00
Celebration by Roger Coleman. An Informal Wedding Ceremony and
Resources for Planning A Home, Garden or Chapel Wedding. Available from
Clergy Services, Inc. (1-800-237-1922). $10.00.
Celebrating the New Family: Resources for Including Children In the Wedding. Call Clergy Services, Inc. (1-800-237-1922) for a free catalog.