Wedding stress can pile up quickly, leaving you to wonder: When did the process of tying the knot... become so tangled?
There's the obvious stressors, like budget maintenance and seating charts; but then there's the more subtle pressures, like family and in-law opinions, or the need to be perceived as perfect.
You can unwind before you walk down the aisle. First, it's helpful to understand the potential stressors of wedding planning, and how they might be affecting you; then, learn more about how therapy can help you navigate and tackle them!
Understand your stressors, and how they affect you
Everyone experiences wedding planning – and wedding stress! – differently, meaning the list of common concerns that clients express is pretty expansive.
However, there are a few stressors around wedding stressors that come up more consistently than the rest, including:
1. Managing competing expectations from others
It’s not usually very long before newly engaged people begin to notice the shocking reality of just how many people in their lives have an opinion about how their wedding should go.
For some, this can be an extremely overwhelming experience, and can be intensified by the 24/7 accessibility of photos from others’ weddings & flood of wedding inspiration that comes with planning a wedding in the 21st century.
2. Difficulty making decisions
When confronted with the stressor above, decision-making can become all the more challenging.
There are so many voices and opinions around that it’s difficult to figure out whose to prioritize, especially with different dynamics – including who’s paying for what, and how much that should result in how decisions get made.
3. Reconciling personal visions with your partner's expectations
People often start day-dreaming about their wedding long before they’re even engaged. In that phase, we are only focused only on our own hopes and dreams, and don’t really need to consider the expectations of our future partner.
When we actually do get engaged, though, we often need to compromise what we originally had in mind for our “dream wedding” – because our partner should also have a say in some of these things as well!
4. Weighing family input on vision, too
Similar to the above visions from partners, getting married is almost always an entire family affair, so there will be needs and values of family members which might need to be considered as well.
This dynamic can often set the stage for heightened family strain with our own families or our in-laws. That territory can be difficult to navigate for the newly engaged couple and can often put a lot of pressure on the couple to do and say the “right” things, thereby putting strain on the partnership as well.
5. Acknowledging the momentum of the moment
Getting married is a major life transition for the couple. Even when life transitions are positive, they can be both scary and vulnerable for the people involved.
6. Budgetary and financial concerns
Everything in wedding world is more expensive and there is an opportunity to spend more at every corner. Getting away from your identified budget (or avoiding even talking about what that budget is) can be really easy and extremely stressful for couples.
7. Pressure of perfectionism
Having the perfect wedding, the perfect engagement, the perfect partner, the perfect weight, the perfect day... Movies, TV shows, and social media contribute to a lot of pressure to have this day and experience be absolutely “perfect.”
Sometimes, it is important to explore our ideas of perfectionism and what might be an unrealistic expectation for ourselves, our families, our partners, or our wedding.
How therapy can help with wedding stress
Marriage is often one of the first major life transitions that a couple will encounter as they initiate the formation of a new family unit. Wedding planning, therefore, serves as the process around the formation of that family unit and how the unit will make decisions to mark the transition.
Since any major decision-making moment or life transition can often be accompanied by stress, seeing a therapist during this time can help a couple or individual:
- Identify important insights about the way they make decisions
- Handle stress in a healthy way
- Communicate effectively
- Prioritize their new family
All of these skills will be helpful in future transitions, major stress points, and even everyday ups-and-downs.
Therapy can also be a safe space to process how you want to make decisions - the costs and benefits of each decision. It can be a safe place to acknowledge that the process isn’t always “rainbows and butterflies,” because society often tells us that we have to be euphoric during this time in our lives or “we’re doing it wrong.”
Try these therapy types for managing wedding stress
Every bride and her experience of bridal stress is different. For some, interventions of the following skill-based approaches are the most supportive:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A skills-based approach to talk therapy in which you and your therapist work together to identify your individual problems and concerns, and learn to integrate strategic techniques in response to these issues
- Mindfulness practices: Learning and implementing a variety of different exercises and activities intended to help you learn to observe yourself and the world around you in an open, nonjudgmental way.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A form of psychotherapy geared toward helping you take positive action in your life that involves elements of mindfulness practices and cognitive behavioral therapy
For others, a more psychodynamic and attachment-focused approach to how relationships are navigated is most appropriate.
For couples, I tend to integrate:
- Emotionally-focused therapy
- Concrete communication skill-building
For premarital couples, we also have the option of utilizing the Prepare/Enrich assessment and skill building model.
(I have always considered myself an integrative therapist, which I believe is the only way to work with the very diverse clientele that come to me for support with wedding-related stress.)
Therapy can be helpful for easing wedding stress in as little as a few sessions
There are some clients who have benefitted from just a few consultations to gain increased perspective and a few tools for dealing with the stress.
For others, wedding therapy is an ongoing process that is less about “overcoming” the stress, and more about having ongoing support to cope with stress as it moves and evolves throughout the process.
Length of time is highly dependent on the stress – and the bride, groom, or couple.
Premarital counseling can be helpful for all couples (stressed or not)!
I highly recommend premarital counseling to couples who are about to get married. Having a neutral party facilitate conversations about your future can be extremely enlightening, bonding, and informative.
It also offers a protected time and space that the couple can come together and listen to each other, which, in the midst of wedding planning and quick-paced NYC living, can be a rare and precious gift.
Two final takeaways if you're really struggling with wedding planning stress
#1: Remember that parts of planning can be fun even if other parts are not. It’s not an all or nothing affair.
#2: Stay present. Remember it’s a really unique time to be engaged and planning a wedding. Many people only go through it once.
Stay present and remember wedding planning is a special time – marking a special life transition that is reflective of more than just a one-night or one-weekend celebration!