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Tips: Pre-Wedding Jitters
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, May 2005

When someone announces their intentions to marry, the usual (and desired) response is joy, excitement, and immediately going into “planning” mode. Why, then, is there so much stress?

Just think of all the factors of letting go related to getting married. Parents letting go of their “little boy or little girl”, the man and woman letting go of their single lives they have cultivated for any number of years, letting go of the familiar life and lifestyle and then embarking on one filled with unknowns. So, pre-wedding jitters (and for some, the entire engagement period) is about letting go, adjustments, confusion, change, and expectations. It is about new beginnings as well as endings and all endings are defined by separation and loss. Do I really WANT what I think I want? Pre-wedding jitters are also about becoming an adult. Sometimes, the groom-to-be stays in the background so that his fiancé can plan the wedding of her dreams. He goes on with his life as she becomes preoccupied, overwhelmed, tired, and often feeling resentful about his apparent lack of either involvement or interest. She gets angry that he is not helping her and wants him to share the planning with her. He gets angry and is confused because he thought he was being helpful by staying out of the way so she could plan the wedding she wanted. Pre-wedding jitters are often about mis-reading someone else’s mind and acting on assumptions.

Among the most common issues that couples argue about with one another and with and their parents are:
• Sharing responsibility of planning and executing the tasks, size and cost of the wedding.
• The “feel” of the wedding (conflicting tastes related to such issues as informally attired guests encircling the couple in a garden with their friends reading poetry or a black tie formal dinner with a society band)
• Who gets to invite whom? How many guests do the bride, groom, and their respective families invite? How do you consider and include the step families and the divorced parents?
• How do you honor those who have died?
• Who pays for what?
• Specifics about the ceremony (especially in interfaith situations) and to what extent and in what ways is everyone to be involved?
• Who is running the show (the mother or the bride-to-be or the couple?) Who has input? It should be determined early on who has the last word.

So the big key (and the big challenge) is to know yourself and understand what are the main conflicts that have arisen. With whom are you in conflict? Are you and your fiancé (or your family or friends) fighting all the time? Who is this wedding for? Is it for your parents? Is this wedding the wedding of your dreams or your mom’s dreams? Are your parents using your wedding as a chance to deal with business obligations? Are you listening to yourself and to your fiancé regarding the kind of wedding you both want or are you listening to others regarding your dress, the venue, size of the wedding, food, photographer, rites and rituals, flowers, etc. If your folks are paying for the wedding, who is making the decisions?

Each of us has some expectations about what our wedding and the months leading up to it and the years after it will be. We also have varying degrees of flexibility when it comes to change. The process of falling in love, becoming engaged, getting married, and then defining yourself as a “wife” or a “husband” and also as a couple requires a significant amount of adjustment.

Most of us are not emotionally prepared for such a momentous occasion as a wedding. Moreover, since every courtship and every wedding is different, your experience will be unique to you. The goal is not to have a stress-free wedding experience, but a wedding that is both a meaningful experience of your lifetime, and one that you and those involved can handle. Given that a wedding involves a) being asked to make a huge change in one's life; b) making both a decision and lifetime commitment; c) adjusting to your own and someone else’s family; d) being the center of attention; e) and compromising in areas where you feel strongly, it is virtually impossible to glide through it flawlessly, which is not to say that it can’t be interesting and fun.

Here are TIPS for you to keep an open mind.

1. Recognize stress when it appears, acknowledge it, and find ways to manage it. Regardless of whether a bride is printing the invitations on her Laser printer and tying cute little silver wedding bells with ribbons on each invitation, designing and sewing her own dress, or hand dipping 100 chocolate strawberries, you may feel alone but there are people in your world who are also have a pre-wedding experience with you. People not only want to help a marriage take place, but they also want to share in the experience, There needs to be opportunities for those around you to help you by sharing responsibilities. Understand that issues that cause problems are often linked to unsettled trouble spots that existed before the engagement (like being overly involved with your family.) People handle stress and change and loss in a variety of ways…be sensitive. Get into their shoes and try to discuss what is happening. Give the important people in your life an significant part to play in the planning and in the wedding. But don’t give critical tasks to people, whom your experience has taught you they are unequipped to handle.

2. There are definite phases in the wedding process. Not everyone will experience these phases in the same way, but recognizing that they exist, that they may shape the days, weeks and months leading to the wedding, will make you happier in the long run. Parents often go through their own phases too, which may leave them feeling or acting differently. It is common for parents to experience feelings of loss, happiness, doubts about the marriage, timing of the wedding, the cost, their involvement, who they will and will not invite, whether they will be “welcome” in your home and whether they will have a good relationship with you after you are married. Additionally, their adjustment process may not be parallel to yours. They may make big deals about what you think are little things, they may appear to have gone “mad” by arguing about the slightest thing or appearing as if they just landed from another planet.

3. Plan as much as you can as early as you can so that you have some time to enjoy the process, your fiancé, and other aspects of your life (yes, you do still need to live your life!) Still spend time with friends, alone. So many brides and grooms-to-be fear becoming estranged from their friends after they marry. Some do. Certainly relationships change, but be watchful that you are not only focusing on YOUR life while your friends are having reactions to you getting married too. Prepare by prevention. Anticipate trouble spots and try to deal with them appropriately in a preventative way. You will rely on your friends for the years after you are married so treat your friendships with the respect and care they deserve. And remember, there will ALWAYS be things that will come up at the last minute…and the planning, no matter how prepared you are, will find you with a lot of last minute details.

4. Get rid of needing things, people and services to be “perfect.” Recognize that everything will not be perfect! The perfect place, the perfect dress, the perfect cake, the need to have the perfect everything keeps the bride (and often her mother) very busy and out of touch with her feelings of change, loss, grief, fear etc., which are all normal. Perfectionism is about control. If you let it loosen a bit, you will find that the grief, fear and loneliness that many brides experience are not only normal but healthy. Everyone questions whether they are making the right decision. Questioning is healthy and does not mean that you doubt your choice of a partner. And remember, there is a big difference between perfection and high standards. When you have high standards you can feel good about yourself. If something untoward happens (and it will) you will not be destroyed. In fact, it will become part of the event and your personal story. As a perfectionist, you are never satisfied. And when those inevitable things go wrong, you feel it is about you and you are prone to take it a personal assault.

5. Face your fears and write about them. Talk with long-married couples because that helps to reduce your fears. Most of us only know one marriage somewhat well…that of our parents. And we only saw what they allowed us to see. There is a reality out there and it is called a high divorce rate; so asking questions is helpful. You may have been raised by parents who did not have such a great relationship. You may be worried about your own chances for a good marriage. Ask questions about what it is like to be married. So many people focus only on the wedding and forget about what this is all about…building a life with someone you love. Most of us really need to ask questions and while we are overly busy with the wedding planning we are not giving ourselves the space or time to do that. It is normal to feel fear when jumping into the unknown (marriage.) (ex: Will I give up “girls’ night out?” “Do I still tell my secrets to my friends now that I will have a husband? Will I be disloyal if I do?” “What do I do when we have a fight and I want to go home and I AM home?”)

6. Slow Down. Stay in the moment. Practice some quieting exercise (meditation, walking, prayer, yoga) every day. Allow yourself the space to have your feelings rise to the surface so that you can be conscious of what is happening. You will be less likely to act out inappropriately if you are on top of what is actually going on inside of you. Remember, this is a profound change in your life and I encourage you to welcome and accept the shift. It is not in the frenetic racing to make all of the “right” decisions that evolution from a single woman into a wife and a single man into a husband occurs. It is in the quiet.

Also be sure to:
• Look realistically at the challenges you face
• Recognize that worry never prevented nor solved any problem
• Let go and give away the need to control everything
• Share what is going on with each other
• Focus on what is TRULY important
• Make the wedding your own
• Understand that you cannot please everyone
• If parents disapprove, remain calm and do not react with anger
• Talk positively about your soon to be in-law family
• Keep things in perspective
• Be careful about what is fantasy and what is reality, particularly what is affordable and appropriate
• Attempt to remain an adult (no matter what the situation)
• Relax. Have faith that this is good and will work out

Most importantly kick back and enjoy the experience. This is an exciting time of your life and the memories will last forever.

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