Getting Hitched without a Hitch

Throughout our lives we receive messages from society telling us that an engagement and wedding involve only positive feelings; yet matrimony is a time of transition, and as such has all the human emotions that accompany it, including doubt, uncertainty, fear, and loss.

"These feelings are normal," says Sheryl Paul, author of The Conscious Bride and owner of a bridal counseling firm, Conscious Weddings. "The engagement, far from being a one-sided experience, includes as much sadness and fear as it does joy and celebration."

Mimi Licht, owner of Wisely Wed (wiselywed.com), a bridal counseling service for couples all over the country, agrees that brides and grooms often need some emotional help before the wedding day. Licht became interested in bridal counseling when she was counseling several couples going through divorce. "It's such a sad, painful experience for everyone," she remembers. "I thought, 'If people invested that kind of energy before getting married, it would all pay off in the end.' "

And while a wedding can be stressful for fathers, siblings, and friends, it can be an especially emotional ordeal for the bride, the groom, and their mothers--as well as nonmember friends and family members who may feel excluded by a temple wedding. Here are some tips for ensuring that they all have a great experience on the big day.

The Bride

You've been looking forward to your wedding day all your life. The white gown, the flowers, and the man you love looking at you from across the altar. And now it's all going to be yours. Why aren't you completely overcome with joy? Shouldn't the engagement be a time of bliss? Keep in mind that these uncomfortable feelings, while not pleasant, are completely normal. After all, you're planning a life-changing event.

The Big Issues Too much superficiality. Brides and their wedding parties often tend to focus more on the planning of the wedding rather than the most important things. Paul says that when brides suffer from emotional turmoil, they often distract themselves with the planning instead of talking about what's really going on. "They try to ignore what [they] think should not exist." Emotions such as doubt, fear, and worry are often considered "unsuitable" engagement emotions and are frequently pushed under the table.

Meaningful conversation is key to overcoming this. Paul encourages brides to talk to friends and family about what is going on internally. Be honest and frank, and make sure that most conversations cover more than "Which photographer are you using?" and "What type of dress did you buy?"

"Woman" to "wife" transition. Brides may feel like they are losing a part of themselves when they become engaged--that they are losing some independence, and may feel pushed into the role of "wife," causing them to feel a loss of their individuality. Many women are saddened or confused by these feelings. Will they lose their own identity by pledging themselves to another? "What happens is that [newlyweds] sometimes feel that they've lost all freedom as an individual," says Licht. "The truth is, the newlyweds need to learn to be a couple, but also need to have some separate time for themselves."

It can be helpful to talk to your fiancé about his expectations of you as a wife. Does he expect you to cook dinner daily? Always keep the house clean? Express your views about sharing the household responsibilities, and talk about having time for yourself. "This is an issue for most couples that comes up pretty early," states Licht. "Sometimes it takes a year or two to learn how to compromise time."

It is imperative that you and your spouse recognize the importance of personal time and respect each other's individuality--in the long run, this will strengthen your union.

Is he Mr. Right? When you were dating, your fiancé seemed like the perfect match. You were excited to get married. You were sure there was no way anyone could ever be funnier, sweeter, more handsome, or more spiritual. But since you've been engaged, you've started to wonder, "Am I really making the right choice?"

Licht says that these doubts are very common. "Once someone makes a commitment, like getting engaged, doubts creep in. They might start to think that the grass is greener on the other side. But there's no such thing as Prince Charming; everyone has their shortcomings." Try writing down the top three or four things that you admire about your fiancé and then think about them every time doubts arise. Hopefully, those things you love about him will silence the doubts you might be having.

However, you shouldn't dismiss all doubts. Licht suggests that fiancés take note of the frequency of doubtful feelings. "If something keeps gnawing at them, this could point to a red flag," she says. "If something doesn't feel quite right about the other person or your relationship, there is always the opportunity to discuss this with a professional to determine whether this doubt is justified or related more to your own anxiety." Try to determine on your own if the doubts you are having are based on something imperative to the relationship (such as a trust or honesty issue) or if it is a more low-key concern, such as an annoying habit.

If you are concerned about the former, you might want to put things on hold while you gain greater clarity. "There is never any harm in taking more time to make this important decision," says Licht.

Family and Friends: How to Help the Bride It can be difficult for friends and family to help the bride, especially if she is trying hard to hide her emotions. Even if your loved one doesn't appear to be struggling with her engagement, take the time to find out. Mimi Licht suggests that friends or family plan low-key get-togethers, not just bridal showers, so the bride and her loved ones have opportunities for open, meaningful conversations. These don't have to be big parties; in fact, they shouldn't be. They should be small, intimate gatherings, perhaps at a favorite restaurant or at a friend's home. Prepare some of the bride's favorite snacks and settle down for a few hours of conversation.

The Groom

You've fallen in love, and you're ready to take the plunge. At first, it was funny when your friends laughed about the "ball and chain" and how you have to ask your fiancée for permission to go out with the boys. But now the realization of what you're actually getting into has hit home. Are you really ready for this? Don't panic--lots of men have the same worries.

The Big Issues. New responsibility. The responsibilities of being a husband may be weighing on your shoulders. You need to get a job and support your family. You need to be the worthy priesthood holder in your home. You will eventually have children of your own. Being a husband is no easy task--and the thought of it might make you want to run back to your boyhood. "Connected to the loss of freedom is the realization that [a groom's] youth is over," says Sheryl Paul. However, step back and think of why you asked this woman to marry you. Is it the way she smiles? The way she supports all your dreams?

Being concerned that you are not up to handling these new responsibilities as a husband is completely normal. In fact, it's actually a good sign. That you are worried about your new duties shows that you are mature enough to realize that this is a big life change--one that is going to take some work. Take a look at how being a husband will change your life. Consider what you can do to prepare. Find a job, if you need to. Search the scriptures for answers to your worries. Attend the temple with your fiancée and think about why you love her, and how you are willing to make the sacrifices to support her and be with her forever.

"With marriage comes the reality that there is another person who is directly affected by your actions," says Paul. "Marriage solidifies a bond and commitment that defies tangible reality, and this can take some adjustment. On the other hand, you now have someone who is thinking about and considering you in her decisions and actions. This is one of the beauties of marriage."

Cutting the apron strings. Men are often brought up by such wonderful mothers that it's hard to leave them, even when there is a bright future ahead. "I see this quite a bit with the people I counsel," says Licht. "They have to realize that their loyalty needs to shift, that it is important for the couple to decide things together. The man needs to learn how to separate himself from his mother in order to have a healthy marriage."

While it's important to maintain healthy ties with your family, you, as a groom, need to understand that your primary allegiance needs to shift from your family of origin to your chosen wife. Your role has changed to "husband," which takes precedence over your role as "son." And men, keep in mind-the same is true for your bride and her family.

Family and Friends: How to Help the Groom Parents can make a big difference when it comes to their son's transition into marriage. Mom and Dad, sit down with your son and talk to him about his new responsibilities. Explain that you understand that his relationship with you is changing, and that he needs to put his wife above all else. A man often feels responsible for his parents and may feel guilty about the new relationship with his wife. If you, as parents, acknowledge and accept the change aloud, the transition from son to husband will be easier for him.

Friends, organize a meaningful bachelor party for the groom. If you do something that acknowledges his transition from bachelor to husband, it could help him to know that his friends support his decision. One idea is to have everyone give him a small gift to symbolize becoming a husband, like a tool kit, a dish towel, or a loaf of bread (being the primary breadwinner of the family). Of course, the party should not be all serious; after all, it is a bachelor party! The point is to make him excited about the transition, not sad at the life he's leaving behind. Have a great time and make sure the groom does too.

The Mothers

You've been looking forward to your child's wedding for years. Now that the day has arrived, you find yourself surprised at your feelings. A mother's place in the family changes after a wedding, and it's understandable that you would feel upset and uncertain about this. Not to mention you've got a wedding to plan and in-laws to deal with! What follows are some of the most common anxieties that mothers of the groom and the bride experience during the engagement period, and what you can do to accept and overcome them.

The Big Issues Experiencing loss. During the engagement, mothers may start to feel sad and confused, because their child is now going to be closer to someone else and become a new member of a different family. If they recognize the loss, though, they can also start to recognize what they gain. "That realization needs to sink in," says Licht. "Lots of new relationships come along with the children getting married, including grandchildren, in the future. Over time, the mothers need to realize that their lives will be enhanced, and the sense of loss will be lessened."

Displacement. Paul says that for mothers, focusing on the externals, such as the decorations, the dress, or the food, can temporarily abate the grief, fear, and the sense of feeling out of control. "No amount of outer planning will create an atmosphere of support, a secure launching pad, from which your [child] can enter marriage," she says.

Step back and take a look at your priorities. Have you been thinking more about tablecloths than your child? Both of you are going through a major life transition, so take the time to talk about it rather than hide behind color swatches.

Animosity toward the fiancé. You may have enjoyed getting to know your child's boyfriend or girlfriend while they were dating. You may have even expressed excitement over the possibility of your child's wedding. But now that the plans are set in stone, you may be experiencing some ill feelings towards your child's fiancé. Stacy Cole, a recent bride, went through this with her mother.

"My mom has always been my best friend," says Cole. "She is fiercely loyal, always on my side, and always had this idea that no one was good enough for her children. So this escalated when I told her I wanted to marry my husband." Cole struggled between her love for her mother and her love for her fiancé. Although she felt certain that she should marry Sam, her mother's feelings and outbursts were making it very difficult for her to make that decision.

"She made me feel like I was turning on her," recalls Cole. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do: act on something I knew was right even when family hated the idea."

"This is completely natural and common," says Paul. "The critical finger that mothers point at the fiancé is [often] a way to distract themselves from grief and other uncomfortable feelings. [But] the more you accept your feelings, the more space you will have to accept the new union. Seek to create an honest and open relationship with [your daughter- or son-in-law]." Paul suggests that you might share with him or her that while you are happy and excited about the upcoming marriage, you are worried about how it will affect your relationship with your child. Your future daughter- or son-in-law will appreciate your honesty and will probably follow your example to make a bigger effort to improve the relationship between you.

Family and Friends: How to Help the Mothers Be aware that, as a mother, your friend, sister, or parent might be feeling the conflicting emotions of both joy and sorrow. She could even be experiencing a sense of tremendous loss. "Family and friends just need to be there with minds open to this mix of feelings, being accepting of the negatives, which may get expressed under the surface," says Licht. "Most of all, they need good listeners."

But along with communication, mothers of the bride and groom need practical help as well. Offer to bring dinner, clean the house, or help stuff wedding envelopes. Even giving her a couple hours of your time could help her feel the love that she needs during this time of transitions. Also, try not to put more stress on her than needs be--even doing something as simple as giving her a couple weeks notice for visiting teaching (rather than a few days before) can make a difference.

Nonmember Friends and Family

Perhaps you are not a member of the LDS Church and you've waited years to see your daughter, son, niece, nephew, or friend promise his or her life to another. It may come as shock and disappointment when your LDS loved one tells you that he or she has chosen to get married in a temple--and that only LDS members in good standing with the Church may attend. It can be difficult to understand why your family member or friend would choose to exclude people on their wedding day, but it's important to try.

Ask your loved one why they are getting married in the temple. He or she will probably be happy to explain to you why the temple marriage ceremony is so important to them. If you are interested, someone might be able to set up an informal chat with a bishop or a member of the bishopric so that you can ask specific questions that the bride and groom may not be able to answer.

The Big Issues Not being included in the wedding ceremony. This is one of the most difficult things for people not of the LDS faith to understand and accept. Nonmembers tend to view temple weddings as exclusive, or even secretive. Not having the opportunity to witness the wedding ceremony can be very hurtful for a parent, relative, or close friend. However, it is important to remember that the bride and groom aren't choosing to keep you out of the ceremony--they are just choosing to have a temple ceremony. Even if none of their friends and family were able to attend, they would probably still choose to have a temple wedding, because it's not about the people there--it's about the eternal promises that they are making to each other.

Elaine Gray, an Elk Grove, California, resident who is not a member of the Church, experienced this when her son, Charles, was married in the temple. He had become a member of the Church while he was a teenager, and Gray learned from a friend that nonmembers were not allowed in the temple for the sealing ceremony. "When [Charles] proposed to Jenna, he told me they were going to get married in the temple. It was pretty devastating," says Gray. "But I went to my LDS friend, and I spoke to her about it. She said that I could visit a temple that hadn't been dedicated yet and go inside. There was a new temple a couple hours away that hadn't been dedicated yet, and we took a tour. It was very emotional, and [the guides] told me about the wedding ceremony--it sounded beautiful. When we went to Oakland [on their wedding day], I had that visual of Charlie and Jenna kneeling at the altar. I could see it all. But it was still really hard [not to be there]."

Gray feels that parents need to respect their children's decision on the day of their wedding, even if the wedding goes against their parents' wishes. "I think people need to not worry about themselves so much. We have to set ourselves aside and say, 'this is our child,' and let them think for themselves."

If you are unable to tour a temple, visit lds.org and click on "Family History and Temples," then "Purpose of Temples." Here, you can find several articles written on the purpose and importance of temples by some of the leading Church authorities. These will help you understand why the bride and groom made the choice to have a temple wedding.

Victims of missionary overkill. Many nonmembers fear being cornered by well-meaning friends or relatives when they attend LDS wedding receptions. Members of the Church are encouraged to share the gospel, and if they share it with you, it's because they care about you. If you're not interested in hearing about their beliefs, be patient and kindly say so. If they persist, tell them that you are here to celebrate the wedding, and now is not the time for a missionary discussion.

For Friends and Family: How to Help Nonmember Loved Ones Be honest and open with those unable to attend the ceremony. Be kind and take into account the hurt they may be feeling, but don't be apologetic--tell them how excited you are that you are getting married in the House of the Lord.

When creating your guest list for the temple, keep it limited. All temple sealings should have a small guest list, as it is a very personal ceremony, but when nonmember loved ones are involved, the list should be made even shorter. Avoid inviting extended family and friends so as not to wound feelings further.

One of the most popular options for couples with a lot of nonmember family and friends is to have a ring ceremony later in the day, apart from the temple ceremony. Ring ceremonies may not take place on the temple grounds, and should not be treated as a faux wedding, but can still be a wonderful way to include non-LDS family members and friends. Ask your bishop about what the ceremony should entail.

No matter your part in the wedding, do all in your power to make it joyous. Plan ahead--emotionally as well as practically. Accept and acknowledge the magnitude of matrimony and the many feelings that accompany it. Most of all, be patient with and loving to yourself and others. Tremendous change yields tremendous growth. And what growth is more wondrous than the creation of a new family unit, the marriage of a loving man and woman? Your wedding day really can be the happiest day of your life!

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