Updated: Mar 1, 2020
By: Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach
The experience of identifying a primary committed partner (traditionally culminating in "marriage") is one of the most important experiences we will have as Adults. This is also a Life Event that tends to be FILLED with what is commonly referred to as wedding stress. As a Professional Therapist and Online Life Coach who specializes in working with Relationships, I might have officially heard it all when it comes to the types of wedding stress that can go into this special occasion. Between agreeing on the location, venue, guest list, ceremony, food, etc, couples are presented with an extraordinary amount of planning to coordinate in terms of volume, while at the same time usually NOT yet being thoroughly "battle tested" with each other "in action".
In addition to the seemingly never ending list of items to actively coordinate, the American Wedding Culture is oftentimes that "X-Factor" that is the trickiest part of everything just mentioned.
Let’s get to how INTENSE American Wedding Culture has become and how this plays a role in wedding stress.
If you are not careful, y’all could get caught up in all of the excitement and make some BIG mistakes like either spending WAAAY more money than makes sense, OR even going along with things that are just NOT what you had in mind for your Wedding. This will mean entering the next phase of life together with recently created wedding stress. This introduces tension on your Special Day that will provide space for resentments to begin festering. This wouldn't be a good precedent to set on your Wedding Day Folks!
Would you like to make sure this day goes who you always imagined it and also sets you up for success? I am going to share with you how to ensure that you and your Partner do EVERYTHING you can to enjoy your Special Day by setting your Relationship up for Balance with the Wedding itself - in a manner that avoids common pitfalls of wedding stress. After these concepts are explained, I will tell you the story of my own personal wedding to my Wife to provide some examples of these concepts, as well as give you the chance to take a peek inside another part of My Story.
First, what do you WANT versus what do you NEED? What are the priorities? That’s great if you think you agree on the main items and even better that you can rattle them off verbally with each other for 30-45 seconds. If you want to minimize wedding stress, it is best to discuss your wedding expectations formally and WRITE THEM DOWN so you can coordinate and reference your plans at a later date. Yeah, I said it..I know it doesn’t sound sexy to write these down, but what’s not sexy about complete and explicit trust in each other - no matter what? And we all know that American Wedding Culture will encourage us to go over the top...
Think about how much sexier things could get in the bedroom if you and your partner decided there was a STRICT rule that neither would be allowed to feel poorly judged by making a sexual request as long as presented respectfully. This would mean that you get to have NO FEAR about bringing up ANYTHING you fantasized about and considered experimenting with...got your attention now? Explicit guidelines to develop trust sounding any sexier? Dealing with this wedding stress sets a precedent for almost all aspects of your relationship.
If you want to minimize wedding stress from the beginning, a good way to start is to sit down with your partner and brainstorm a list. Once you have the list, you can begin working through it in clusters, then literally isolate the clusters into hierarchical groupings ordered by priority of influence for your Wedding Day. While I know the research about Marriage and Family Therapy and Personal Development, as well as have My Own Story, I can’t tell you what you should include, but most if not all wedding celebrations include these variables that you should consider together:
1) How much money to spend?
Remember accepting financial gifts from Family inherently defers a degree of influence to those Family Members. Each Family has different expectations around this particular dynamic, but it is best to be aware and open about potential interaction here.
2) Domestic or destination location?
3) What extended family members get to be involved in proceedings and to what degree?
4 Any “hard stops” or firm boundaries for friends/family members to NOT be invited as guests?
5) How much about the personal agenda of the couple? How much about the Family, Tradition, and resulting rituals?
5) Food Requirements?
There will be a lot of time in the future for explaining the “ins and outs” about how to sort out these matters most appropriately. For now, let me shed some insight into how my Wife and I prioritized our Wedding, just so you can see an example of how different it can be - while still being FUN, ROMANTIC, and BALANCED.
Our Wedding was about being connected with as many of our People as possible. We put this priority at the top from the outset and planned the rest of our Wedding around this in mind. Our Community is really important to us and through the years in one form or another, our People have really showed up both in times of distress and celebration. This has made us close and we wanted to launch into the next phase of our lives accordingly.
We were BROKE. We had just left working in the wilderness therapy setting for three years and squirreled away a little bit of money between us. At the same time, we were moving from Appalachia where we made 20K a year with free room and board, to Portland, Oregon, complete with West Coast urban cost of living. To boot, I had just started graduate school and took out tons of student loans. We had a high energy puppy that took whatever time and resources we had left, so this was going to be done on the CHEAP.
We got married in the courthouse in Portland, Oregon in July 2010 with our friends as witnesses. Then, we went “on tour”, traveling to my family in Atlanta to celebrate on my stomping grounds, then up to Michigan to spend some time with my Wife’s Family. This was all capped off with what She and I considered “OUR Wedding”, in the classiest spot ever...Myrtle Beach, SC. Even though this particular destination is kind of a over-run, cliche, drunk “bro infused, spring Break” yelling...sorry...
While you can see that part of Myrtle Beach just isn’t my social scene, Jess and I have always LOVED going to the beach and in fact the first time we crossed the threshold from Friends into Lovers was on a trip to Myrtle Beach that we took with a friend group while working In The Woods together. It was a magical place for us and we decided that 3 days of nothing but beach time, except for a 20 minute ceremony at 10 o’clock in the morning (it gets HOT in the summer and we had several elderly Family Members present) was the only structured expectation we would ask of our Friends and Family. Aside from that, our Wedding was 3 days of Sunshine, the Ocean, and catching Waves with Loved Ones. Our “all in budget" was $2500, and we spent the full $2500 between food (sub sandwiches on the beach), travel, as well as room and board included.
After you know how much financial resources you have to work with and all the Family/Tradition viewpoints that might need to be considered, you can get down to business on figuring out who exactly gets to plan this thing and to what degree.
It used to be common tradition for the family of the bride and/or groom to pay for and plan much if not all of the wedding proceedings. Obviously times have changed, but to what degree in your Relationship and with your respective Families? How much about this will be about Family and Tradition versus the personal tastes of the Couple? The answers to these questions will be provide essential guidelines for deciding the resulting rituals and events to take place during the wedding ceremony.
It is also important for any other aspects of Family dynamics in the present tense - not only past Traditions - to get ironed out adequately to have a sufficiently Balanced Wedding. We all have at least that one weird Uncle who shows up to Family reunions, drinks waaay too much, eats all of the potato salad, then tries to pick a fight with our grandfather.
In general, the risks you are willing to take with the potential chaos caused by members of the guest list might be a bit lower considering the higher stakes of this event. It might be wise to consider if all of the potential guests on your invitation list can consistently "play by the rules" enough to refrain from creating a scene at your Wedding. If you think about what you expect to happen and it is NOT pretty, you should buck up and have the conversation with your Partner to at least consider your options.
If both of you decide that your comfort level with a particular guest behaving conscientiously enough to respect the proceedings of your special day is lower than your comfort level, then you might want to consider not inviting this potential guest altogether. You’re not being a mean. You are setting a boundary for a ritual that sets an essential precedent for your new Marriage.
Where in the world is this Wedding going to be? And I say that because these days, it seems like it is more common than ever for people to travel far away from Home, and even across the world to have the Wedding of their dreams. I’ve known of Folks going to exotic locations in Old World Europe, as well as sandy beaches in The Tropics to “tie the knot”. When you first propose, get engaged, and are subsequently swarmed by the initial excitement of the occasion, it is far too easy to get caught up in the fantasies of beautiful and surreal destination Wedding locations.
After you have forced yourself to slow down and go through the items in the earlier sections of this article, you should have a pretty clear idea of what makes the most sense regarding geographic locale. If you do decide to enter into mutual debt in the name of a “Dream Wedding,” at least consider making a financial plan that you can adhere to so you can get back on track with your financial health afterwards.
This doesn’t mean your decision(s) will always be clear cut, but they are best if Balanced. As mentioned previously, my Wife and I got married at the courthouse in Portland, Oregon, then had "Wedding Tour 2010", involving get-togethers with Friends and Family from Michigan to Atlanta and ending in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We did ALL of this at the cost that some people spend on their appetizers. There is NOTHING wrong with this, but it also doesn't mean your Wedding has to put you in debt or be "fit for The Queen" in order for it to be meaningful, sacred, and Balanced enough to be sustainable your Wedding.
My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.