Saturday 1 October 2016

Dr David Coleman's top tips for a stress-free wedding day

Working together as a couple will take strain out of planning

Published 27/07/2015 | 02:30

Working together as a couple will take strain out of planning. Picture posed
Working together as a couple will take strain out of planning. Picture posed

Planning a wedding involves a huge amount of thought and hard work. There are the practical arrangements such as a venue, food, photography, a cake and all of the myriad other things that have to be organised.

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But, even though these things all take time and energy to plan and organise, they are rarely the source of stress at the wedding. It is usually people who create wedding stress.

Whether it is a strain within the relationship of the couple getting married, or tensions with their own parents or extended family, or friction with the in-laws, the social element of the wedding is often the hardest to manage.

So much of the time this comes down to expectations. Brides, usually, have very clear expectations of what they want to experience on their wedding day. Often, the groom's expectations don't even get a look in. Negotiating this can be difficult.

However, it is a crucial negotiation. Because, aside from everything else that may happen in the lead up to the wedding, you will want the wedding to draw you closer as a couple, not drive you apart.

So talk lots and talk often, about the good stuff and the bad stuff in your wedding preparations. Always find compromise that you can both be satisfied with. Having a clear sense of togetherness and having a united approach will mean that you can meet other pressures, perhaps from friends and families, feeling backed up by each other.

Because, aside from your own expectations of what the wedding "should" be about, you will have to manage the expectations of the mother and father of the bride (especially if they are making a financial contribution to the wedding), the groom's family and various friends who may look at the seating plan, for example, as a hierarchy of closeness.

I do believe that many couples begin planning for their wedding under the wrong auspices. They believe that they are planning "their" day. But weddings, by their nature, are about the bride and groom looking to their community to celebrate, with them, their decision to marry and live together.

Most couples who get married do, passionately, want to share their joy and excitement with their friends and family. We want them to celebrate with us. But, much and all as this is a joining of the couple, it is also the joining of two families.

So, right from the outset, when you are getting married, you have to consider the needs of your families, just like you have to consider your own needs. Inevitably this will involve discussion and compromise.

If you can manage to set aside the concept of your wedding as a "princess-day", where everything must be "perfect" for the bride, you may find that it opens you up to the joy of the communal celebration of your love for each other. It'll make compromising easier.

I mentioned money earlier. It does play a role, sometimes, in the friction that can develop during the wedding planning. Many families will want to contribute financially, some won't or can't. Many couples may want to remain financially independent, some won't. But, being clear at the outset about where the money will come from and about what influence that money bestows on the giver, may save a lot of heartache and rows down the line.

Don't just accept offers of financial support and assume that your supporters won't want their voice heard in the planning of the wedding.

Bearing in mind, like I mentioned, that in getting married, you are connecting yourself to another family, you may find that your soon-to-be in-laws are another source of stress and tension. You have to remember that you are a relatively new part of their family.

You will also be changing the dynamic of their family, changing the nature of the relationships between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, sisters and brothers. Often times, this is easily negotiated. Sometimes it provokes resentment, resistance and conflict.

So, when it comes to the wedding you may find it easier for the related fiancé to negotiate the details with their own family. I have heard this called the "blood-to-blood" principle.

So, whenever there is a potentially difficult conversation to be had such as "I can understand you'd like your whole extended family present, but we are only inviting direct aunts, uncles and grandparents…" let this be initiated by the fiancé who is related to them.

Doing it this way reduces the likelihood of perceived slights by your in-laws. You are less likely to be judged, or resented, if you are not the one delivering the hard decisions. Your spouse-to-be also has the benefit of a lifetime relationship with his or her family.

They will be used to falling out with each other, apologising to each other and forgiving each other. They can read their families' body language effectively; they will know the potential sensitivities. So, if there is confrontation to be had, let the blood relative do it.

Taking account of separations, new relationships and possible old wounds may also soak up a lot of your emotional effort in planning your wedding. Perhaps parents have split up and now have new partners. Possibly in-laws may not speak to each other.

Don't feel obliged to slavishly follow past custom and practice when it comes to any ceremonial roles, during the wedding ceremony itself or at the reception afterwards. Seat people where they will be most comfortable, rather than where custom dictates.

Your wedding is your opportunity to show, publicly, to your friends and your family, your joy in marrying your fiancé. Preparing for that may involve lots of compromise, sensitivity and generosity on your part.

Remember that the relationships you have with your fiancé, your family, your in-laws and your friends must all survive the day. Your wedding is a celebration of the strength of your relationship, not the reason for it to disintegrate!

Letting go of some idealised details of the wedding day, before those relationships crack, splinter or break, may be the wisest choice you can make.

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