Following are some typical conflicts that may arise for pre-marital couples as you plan the wedding, make decisions about family involvement in the ceremony, list items for your gift registry, decide on a wedding budget and/or plan to merge finances. Essentially, the time between an engagement and a wedding can be seen as one giant transition where many of the defining issues of who you are and how your relationship will partner on various decisions will emerge and demand to be resolved. All of the following questions and situations can evoke underlying or hidden issues that may yet to be worked out. What may begin as a conflict can end up being an opportunity–if (and that’s a BIG if) you and your partner can address both the specific issue as well as any underlying issue (if necessary) in a calm and mature fashion using particular skills to help you resolve the issue. Listening, asking clarifying questions, speaking clearly and non-defensively, and then working to calmly negotiate a “creative alternative” or compromise solution is a brief framework you can use to resolve the issue and have a productive discussion. Good luck!
“His family’s guest list is too long, and they are not even chipping in for the wedding.”
We don’t think we have EVER heard of two families coming up with the same number of invited guests, so this is a most predictable dilemma. The real issue is when the difference is very large and one member of the couple feels concerned their family and friends will be outnumbered. The issue can be further complicated if money is tight or the family who is footing the bill has limited financial means. The first question for the couple to determine is what size of wedding they want and how much do they want to spend? In most cases, the number of invitees will be determined by the size of the wedding budget. So you can work back from those decisions to set a maximum number for the guest list. In a perfect world, the wedding list would be equally divided between both families. But when the wedding site is located near or at the home of one of the families (as if often the case), invariably that family’s guest list is higher due to proximity and other family and community obligations. Talk these issues out in a non-defensive way and see how important they are to each of you. Negotiate, compromise and creatively problem solve to make whatever proportion of guests assigned to each family acceptable for both of you. And always be on the lookout for conflicts like these to be about “hidden issues”. Ask yourself what it means if there is a great disparity between the size of each family’s guest list or the amount of money each family contributes. 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?
2. Groom’s Involvement In The Wedding Planning
“He doesn’t even seem to care about the color of the table linens – what is he, insane?”
It is very common for the bride to care more about wedding details than the groom. Some of this has to do with how males and females are socialized. Many women grow up thinking and fantasizing about their wedding day (even career oriented, feminist women). On the other hand, I have met very few men who grew up thinking and dreaming about their wedding day in the same way. So, it is understandable that the bride will probably care more about those wedding details. Find out what details he does care about or have an interest in. Try to engage and involve him in areas that he has an opinion about (ie. food, music, honeymoon destination etc.) and then let him make some important decisions about those areas. Discuss this openly and see if you can parcel out areas of decisionmaking where one of you will take the lead and the other defers. Make sure there are not any underlyng issues (i.e. he feels he should defer to you because “you are the bride–its your day or he feels that your parents or his parents are interfering with the wedding plans). Remember the wedding day is for both of you, even if you as the bride make more of the wedding plans and decisions.
“You are spending big bucks on your dress; he wants to go to Bora Bora on the honeymoon.”
Financial issues are the #1 problem that married couples fight about, so it is not surprising that this issue comes up in the planning for a very expensive wedding. In fact, for many couples, the wedding may be the opening bell on the money topic just because it may be the first time you and your fiance are challenged to resolve differences over a high expense item. First, talk about your expectations in terms of what you want your wedding to be and what you are comfortable spending. Do you have a budget? Are you getting any financial help from your parents? Read books together about the typical costs of weddings. Many people are shocked at how expensive the wedding photographer, wedding dress, food and music can be. Share with each other your feelings and priorities in the wedding budget and see if you can come up with a compromise that works well for both of you.
“Why isn’t he making an effort to understand my traditions?”
Weddings are very tradition-bound and this may be the first time your respective family religious beliefs, rituals, expectations and values have emerged in your relationship life. Sometimes weddings force some of the religious and cultural differences between the couple to come up because your parents and your families may be involved (perhaps for the first time) and possibly exerting pressure for certain traditions to be honored. First, discuss all of these issues with your fiance. Don’t expect him to know he should be making an effort to understand your traditions when he may not even know it IS an issue. Identify what traditions are most important to you and share them with him so he knows what they mean to you. Ask him to identify his traditions that he would like included. If the real issue is how much influence one family or the other will have on the choice of traditions, that needs to be dealt with separately. Rather than viewing this as a conflict area, you might think of it as a situation that calls for a deeper understanding of who each of you are in the eyes of your partner. If handled calmly and sensitively, a discussion like this can be an opportunity to get to know yourself and you partner better just by getting clear about what these traditions mean and say about each other. By thinking positive, you can push through to some of the subtle differences that exist between you that may not have had a chance to emerge yet.
“He wants dark green ink on the invitations, but you want pale green. He wants candles on the tables, you think they look silly. What’s going on?”
So…you wanted your fiance to be more interested in the wedding details. Now you have a more involved groom, so a new problem. Both of you need to share the power and decision-making regarding wedding plans. Listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings about the details in an open, nonjudgmental way. Decide on priorities-try having each person rate on a scale of 1-10 the importance of each detail (i.e. he may rate entertainment, food higher. She may rate wedding dress, flowers etc.) If something is really important (i.e. 9 or 10) to one person and not the other, try to assign the responsibility according to importance. Remember it is 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.”
The location of the wedding is often determined by how old the members of the couple are and how close or separate they are from their respective families. Typically, for a first-time wedding for the bride (especially if it is a first time wedding for the bride’s family), the bride and her family may want to host the event at a location that is convenient for them. In older couples who have more established lives in their own communities, (and who are often are assuming more responsibility for the cost and planning of the wedding), they may want to make it convenient for their many friends to attend, so they want it near their home. Many other issues could be driving the differences in what each of you want. Identify what the real issue may be before trying to solve it. Disucss why you have the particular preference that you do and then see if you can understand it from your partner’s point of view. After being heard and understood, work toward a compromise that is acceptable for you both. Take into account that you may have different levels of investment in certain outcomes. Try to accommodate what each of you really wants and needs and then negotiate a creative solution to make it happen. If still stuck, think about having a second, smaller reception in the location preferred by the less invested member of the couple.
“He picked for his best man his jerk of a college roommate who is intent only on getting my fiancé drunk at our wedding.”
First of all remember that the issue is not about who the best man is but what you are concerned about in terms of the best man’s influence on your fiance or the wedding itself. That makes the focus for the resolution between you and your partner. First, tell your fiance what your concerns are. Remember that everyone has a right to include the people who are important to them in their wedding ceremony. It has to be fair to both of you. And don’t expect to like all of each other’s friends all the time! But the issue here is probably about accepting some of the differences between you and your partner (in this case your friends) and working to communicate whatever feelings you have about them and what this is really about for you. If necessary, come up with some understandings or even agreements that suggest how you both will handle certain circumstances should they arise. Find ways to accept the diversity of personalities that always comes when two families and sets of friends start getting blended. Try to be flexible, non-judgemental and creative in addressing the issues. If there are particular aspects of the best man’s personality or behavior that are a special cause of concern (for example if the best man has a drinking problem like Sandra Bullock in the movie 28 Days), the groom might address these concerns directly with the best man before the wedding.
8. The Wedding Obsession
“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?'”
Both partners have emotional needs here. The bride needs to enjoy this wedding obsession, but it is also a matter of degree. Do they talk about anything else anymore? She also needs to make time for his needs and interests. He probably misses her sharing baseball and beer with him. Many women have more interest and tolerance of wedding details than men do. However, be sure that the wedding focus does not completely overshadow the other aspects of the relationship. Make room for both needs and likely the bride and groom will both be happier.
9. Pre- and Post-Nuptials
“Why is he so intent on planning our divorce when we aren’t even married yet?”
This is a common reaction that people have when one member of the couple suggests signing a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement. To be sure, it’s a sign of the times considering our concerns over the divorce rate, the popularity of community property laws and no-fault divorces as well as the increasing importance of money in our society today. Pre and post-nuptial agreements are most common when there is a large disparity in personal and family assets that each member of the couple brings to the union. Recognise that your respective financial fortunes are also tying the knot when you get married so money issues are likely to emerge at this time if they haven’t already. But, first and foremost, 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. And that’s what must be discussed first before any resolution can be agreed upon. The person requesting the pre or post-nuptial will hopefully have communicated his or her reasons for wanting the agreement. The other person will have to get clear what their feelings are and what other issues it might bring up for them. Try communicating all of this to your partner who should make every effort to listen non-defensively and understand the feelings their partner has. Expect this issue to take time to resolve. Keep an eye on communicating clearly and without anger or defensiveness and make a special effort to listen and understand each person’s point of view. Separate out what each person wants from what their families want because this is an area where families may be exerting some influence. If you remain stuck, try seeing a trained counselor who has experience working with pre-marital couples. Don’t let this issue remain unresolved because it can erode the love you have for each other.
10. The Past
“He is good friends with an old girlfriend, and wants her to attend the wedding. I want her dead.”
The ex-partner dilemma is very common and very complicated. Rather than impulsively react or throw an ultimatum at him/her, first try to really hear each other out about what this relationship really means for him and for you. What is this really about for both of you? Listen carefully and sort out the true meaning and then let that guide your reaction. How would you feel if the ex-girlfriend came to the wedding? How would he feel? Now, what if she doesn’t come to the wedding? Absolutely, the primary relationship must be between the bride and the groom. You two need to discuss how involved ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends are going to be in your life together. No right or wrong here, you just need to come up with an agreement that works well enough for both of you. If he wants his ex-girlfriend in your lives, maybe a compromise would be to all go out together after the wedding when you are hopefully feeling more secure/less jealous after you are already married!
11. The Bachelor Party:
“Some of his friends are plannning to invite a stripper to his bachelor party and I am horrified they will force him to do something that I will be mad at him for.”
Ah yes, that time-honored tradition of one last fling before a man gives up his reckless ways! This situation is often driven by the friends of the groom and their last hurrah before “losing” him to marriage and the wife’s supposed control over him for the rest of his life. The big question is what does the groom want this rite of passage from singlehood to married life to be about? The groom has every right to communicate with his friends what he is and is not comfortable with in terms of a bachelor celebration. If he wants a racy experience, then he will have to address this with his fiance and determine what that means and what is acceptable in terms of their relationship. Again, resolving this issue may take good communication and patience to hear each other out before deciding what compromise might work for both. In many cases, this may raise concerns about fidelity and commitment to the relationship. If there is an underlying issue, try to identify it first and then describe it clearly with your partner. Whatever you decide, don’t let it eat away at the good feelings you have for each other and what the wedding is supposed to be celebrating. If it does, you haven’t resolved it yet and need more time to get it right.