As a couples therapist having worked with many engaged couples over the years, I probably view engagements and weddings differently than most. Society encourages us to envision a perfect day, a gorgeous party, an expensive flowing dress, and the fairy tale beginning of a perfect life.
As anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows, engagements are stressful. Joining two families through the process of planning a party can sometimes look a little bit too much like the politicians we have recently seen duking it out over the budget and can feel like falling over the fiscal cliff.
I view engagements as an important chance to psychologically separate from one's parents and prepare to make one's partner the most important person in their life. I view planning a wedding as a marvelous opportunity for two people to set the stage -- emotionally, socially and financially -- for the way they plan to relate with their respective families and become their own family. This is no easy task, as a client recently remarked:
My parents have vetoed every suggestion we make -- the location, the venue, the priest. My fiancee wants a small wedding but my parents have so many cousins and good friends they want to invite. My sister has already given me twenty dates that won't work. I want to focus on being in love and planning the day I have always dreamed of. Instead, I am completely stressed.
I encourage engaged couples to keep three tips in mind:
1 - Wedding Planning is an Opportunity to Set the Stage for a Couple's Life Together
It is understandable that with all of the stress and pressure that can build up during planning, some couples are tempted to throw in the planning towel and elope. But consider that each and every challenge in the planning process is a chance to learn more about each other and what it really means to be a part of each others' respective families. If you can get through planning a wedding together, it will help you get through future challenges that lie ahead. If you elope, you miss a valuable chance to address certain challenges that are sure to come up in the future.
2 - Learn to Agree to Disagree
It is inevitable that there will be major differences and disagreements along the wedding planning path. This, too, is a valuable opportunity. Look at how well you navigate these differences. Make sure you each talk about yourselves when having difficult discussions. For example, it is more effective to say: "Please keep in mind that I prefer simplicity." It is less effective to say: "Your parents are INSANE, stop letting them get so carried away over-the-top decorations." If you can agree to disagree and tolerate compromise in the planning process, this is good practice for the many joint decisions you will have to make in your marriage.
3 - Take Planning Breaks!
At least once a week, make sure you spend a chunk of quality time together where you do not talk about anything related to your wedding. Do the things you love to do, and make an effort to talk about non-wedding topics. This is good practice for remembering all of the other things that are going on in your lives that have nothing to do with your wedding. By staying engaged (pun intended) in topics of interest other than your wedding, you are less likely to end up boring your friends by becoming consumed by the party planning process. More importantly, weekly planning breaks will keep you in touch with the reasons you are marrying one another in the first place!