Ah, engaged life. Fancy parties in your honor, a legitimate excuse to plunk down thousands for one dress. You never expected the downside: hissing at each other in bridal registry departments, screaming matches over the wedding guest list. The engagement period can be a minefield of hot topics that can trigger huge blowouts — sometimes a seating plan is not just a seating plan.
"Planning the wedding is a trial run for your future marriage. The things you battle about now are clues to where you're going to have trouble in the future," says Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of True Partners: A Workbook for Building a Lasting Intimate Relationship. Here's what lies behind the most common prewedding blowouts — and how to resolve them.
"His family's guest list is getting longer and longer every day, and they're not even chipping in for the wedding."
Tessina warns that this particular argument is "a prototype for future financial dealings." Her advice: Be businesslike. Say to your beloved groom, "This is what your family's guest list will cost, this is what my family's guest list will cost. What can we do to limit the cost? Will your family chip in?"
Dr. Patrick Gannon is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the co-creator (along with his wife, Dr. Michelle Gannon, also a licensed psychologist) of Marriage Prep 101, a course designed for engaged couples. He suggests that there may be more here than meets the eye. "Always be on the lookout for conflicts like these to be about 'hidden issues.' Are either of you sensitive about issues of fairness or balance? Does one of you have a greater sense of obligation to your parents that the wedding be a certain way?"
"He doesn't even seem to care about the color of the table linens — what is he, insane?"
Tessina warns that you could be expecting too much: "He's a man. Most men are clueless when it comes to design and decor." This doesn't mean that you should give up on including him, however. "Find out what he is interested in and encourage him to participate in that part," she says. Michelle Gannon concurs, and adds, "Make sure there are not any underlying issues; say that he feels he should defer to you because you are the bride so it's 'your day' or he feels that your parents or his parents are interfering with the wedding plans."
You're spending big bucks on your dress; he wants to spend some of that cash to go to Bora Bora on the honeymoon.
This time, Tessina is not on the side of the bride. She asks, "What entitles you to spend big bucks on the wedding dress? This needs to be an equitable deal. At least the honeymoon is something you'll both enjoy. Sit down with him, like two adults, and work out the finances of the wedding together."
"Why isn't he making an effort to understand my traditions?"
Patrick Gannon advises first being sure that the groom understands what is expected of him — the poor guy may not even know that you want him to learn about your traditions. Gannon suggests that this topic may even bring the two of you closer and says, "If handled calmly and sensitively, a discussion like this can be an opportunity to get to know yourself and your partner better just by getting clear about what these traditions mean and say about each other."
He wants dark green ink; you want pale green. He wants candles on the tables; you think they look silly. And so on.
"So," comments Michelle Gannon, "you wanted your fiance to be more interested in the wedding details. Now you have a more involved groom, and a new problem. Both of you need to share the power and decision-making regarding wedding plans." She has a plan to accomplish that: "Decide on priorities by having each person rate on a scale of one to ten the importance of each detail. Remember, it's good practice to learn early on how to prioritize, negotiate, and compromise. These skills will come in very handy later on."
"Why does he think we should be married in New Jersey just because we live here? We need to be in South Carolina with my family. His relatives can fly in from Ohio."
"Ask that question for real, not just rhetorically," suggests Tessina. "Why does he want to get married at home? Maybe having friends at the party is more important to him than having family. That's a reasonable want. Perhaps you can scale things down and have a wedding at your family's home and a party in New Jersey."
"For his best man, he picked his jerk of a college roommate who's just intent on getting my fiance drunk at our wedding."
It's time to be both supportive and sensible. According to Tessina, "He and his former roommate may have a strong bond — just make sure there are some more reasonable men around them to keep a lid on things. Arrange with your brother or a male friend to befriend your fiance and help him resist the ploys of the best man." Patrick Gannon recommends sharing your anxiety with the groom, so you can handle the situation together. He says, "If the best man has a drinking problem, the groom might address his concerns directly to the best man before the wedding."
He says, "Who is this detail-obsessed, wedding-magazine-reading woman and where is the girl who used to sit with me watching baseball and drinking beer?"
Drop the Martha act. Your guy may have a point. "He's right," says Tessina. "If the wedding has become more important than your relationship, that's a warning sign. Yes, you want a lovely wedding, but not at the expense of your relationship. After all, what's the point? Keep your future in mind."
"Why is he so intent on planning our divorce when we aren't even married yet?"
This could be a blessing in disguise, according to our experts. "If you pay attention, the prenuptial agreement can be as big an asset for you as it is for him," says Tessina. "It's another way to discuss essential financial issues before you commit." Naturally, the prenup brings up more than just finances for many couples. "This is usually experienced as an emotional issue between the couple, often involving feelings of trust, commitment, and faith in each other and the future of the marriage," says Patrick Gannon. "Don't let this issue remain unresolved, because it can erode the love you have for each other."
He is good friends with an old girlfriend and wants her to attend the wedding. You wouldn't mind if she were dead.
Tessina minces no words on this topic. "Oh, grow up. You've already won this battle — he chose you. Don't mess up things now by being petty and jealous. Those are not becoming traits. Befriend her, get to know her, and you may like her yourself. Invite her to help with a shower. If you're too insecure to do that, perhaps you should rethink getting married. You may not be ready." Michelle Gannon points out, "You two need to discuss how involved ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends are going to be in your life together."