A wedding is a time, a place, and a significant ritual for a couple to mark the beginning of a new life cycle and the joining of multiple families. More profoundly, a wedding is a ritual that expresses the profound loss of children in their primary allegiance to their parents, and a creation of the new couple and family, with the formation of in-law relationships (Imber-Black & Roberts, 1998, Rituals for Our Times: Celebrating, Healing, and Changing Our Lives and Relationships). Couples often struggle with keeping the meaning of their wedding in the forefront and not getting lost in the shuffle of all the stress. Couples have to balance family dynamics, manage expectations, and celebrate love. Here are some tips for easing the tension and creating a meaningful wedding ritual.
A wedding is a celebration of love and the deepening of commitment. What does a wedding mean to you? Being curious about each other’s values can help you think through the truly important changes you want this ritual to represent. More importantly, what aspects of your story do you want this ritual to express and affirm? While nuptials can sometimes appear as just a party or an event, what it symbolizes is far more powerful and lasting, as it expresses a union of life partners, warmth, support, affirmation of love, and sense of being connected to one another. If planning starts to get too serious or overwhelming, take a break together, enjoy things not related to wedding planning, and spend time with friends who aren’t talking about wedding planning. It offers rest and rejuvenation.
Together, consider participating in premarital counseling. Some couples worry if they go to counseling before they get married they are doomed. In reality, premarital counseling offers a safe positive place to talk about important topics that will come up during wedding planning and in your future together. Consider taking the PREPARE/ENRICH inventory which looks at a couple’s strengths and areas of growth. The conversation it generates is strength based, interesting and draws couples even closer. Talking about tough topics like religious beliefs, childrearing, sexual intimacy, finances, and family upbringing, draws a couple closer together and creates a stronger deeper bond.
Manage Your Expectations
Whether it’s family, your partner, or your own, expectations surrounding a wedding can be a great source of tension and stress for many couples. You and your partner may share a similar meaning for the wedding ritual but have different expectations. As you begin to plan your special day, collectively discuss and define a budget to help guide your wedding expectations and decisions. Additionally, have a conversation earlier on in the planning process about both of your visions for the wedding, and the importance of certain aspects. If you and your partner find yourselves fundamentally disagreeing on a symbolic aspect (for example, wedding vows, religious involvement, the cake, exchanging of rings, etc.) of the wedding ritual, try sharing with each other the meaning and significance of that symbol to you. The idea here is to work together as a team to explore possibilities for reasonable, win-win solutions. It is better to be happy then to be right. Working together in this meaningful way can help with the transition to married life.
Balance Family Dynamics
No family is perfect. Every family is unique and has its own challenges. Because a wedding marks the formation of a new partnership, it is important to make bonding efforts early on. Bringing together significant family members from both sides to discuss the type of wedding they are envisioning can help to curb expectations and provide an opportunity to address any major problems. It is important to keep in mind that family ideas and input come from a space of wanting to feel included in the wedding ritual and to show support for the relationship. To create inclusion, try to find ways for those close supporters to feel included and play a role in the ritual. Helping with the music selection, being ushers, hosts/hostesses, going to a tasting, collecting and tracking the RSVPs, etc. are all opportunities for family members to participate in the wedding ritual, which can create a meaningful and memorable day for them as well. Making efforts toward family bonding and deepening connections show appreciation for having their support and start the extended family relationships in a positive direction.
Conflict can escalate when a family member does not feel heard. This, of course, does not mean that you cannot be honest with your family. If you do not like someone’s suggestion or advice, try explaining why. This allows for family members to feel heard and to appreciate that there is a real reason behind your decision. “You might be right” is a statement you can say when you are getting advice that you may not take. It allows family members to feel heard without you having to feel defensive. For very difficult personalities, you may want to consider letting certain things go. Arguments can become more of a power struggle and, as a result, the meaning of the day becomes overshadowed. Or, consider setting clear firm boundaries with those family members who become too difficult and are overstepping. Remember, family members (while not all) want to express their well wishes and celebrate your commitment on this significant day of your relationship. Intention is significant.
We hope your wedding day is filled with joy, a constant reminder of the commitment and love you share together and the extended family and support you are gaining. Take time to enjoy the moments and savor the day. Know that no couple gets to avoid family dynamics- its just the flavor of involvement that changes from couple to couple. Use grace to take a deep breath and refocus on the commitment you are making. And if need be use grace to smile and politely remind people you can’t focus on that now, because today you celebrate love!