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updated: 3/26/2012 11:17 AM

Marriage is hard enough without pre-wedding stress

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Ministers see a lot of interesting things at weddings.

There was the time a bee flew up the soloist's dress at an outdoor wedding (you should have heard the high notes).

I remember the professional actor who completely forgot the marriage vows -- even when I coached him phrase by phrase.

One icy December, the groomsmen's car slid into a ditch; understandably delayed, the wedding didn't end until midnight.

At my own wedding, the flowers -- the wrong flowers -- arrived five minutes after we had started.

These are, for the most part, amusing stories. I also have some unpleasant memories of weddings and how they affected the bride and groom, as well as friends and family.

Misunderstandings, disappointments, hurt feelings, anger and lasting resentments also are often the unintended byproduct of wedding ceremonies.

We invest a great deal of time, energy and money into weddings and all that goes along with them. Though there seemed to be a trend toward smaller, less formal services in the late 1960s and '70s, recently there has been a return to the more traditional wedding process involving bridal showers, teas, rehearsals, rehearsal dinners, groom's parties, elaborate ceremonies, dinner/dance receptions, and so on. That's an awful lot to have going on. We can get so caught up in all the social trappings that we lose sight of the reason for all of it: The loving relationship being formalized in marriage.

Actually, just preparing for such a wedding can be overwhelming for many couples. Professional event planners have even shared with me that wedding preparations can stretch their skills and patience to the limits.

To further complicate matters, we all seem to have different ideas of just how everything should be at such wedding extravaganzas. Usually these ideas are tied to emotion-laden memories of our own or other special weddings. As bride or groom, friend or family member, we often want to impose our memories on the current marriage in the making.

The problem really isn't with the memories -- it's the imposition. So many different people, all with different needs, are involved in planning a large wedding that there is no way everyone can have things "just right." All too often, nobody gets much of what they want -- not even the bride and groom.

As you might expect, all this wedding preparation can severely strain the relationship between the man and woman getting married. Caught in the middle, they try to satisfy their own wedding dreams while balancing everyone else's requests (or demands). The couple-to-be can be pulled every which way -- even apart -- trying to hold everything and everybody together. Some couples never even make it to the church because of such stress. Others plant seeds of hurt and resentment that complicate later marital adjustment.

Marriage is hard enough in this day and age without such pre-wedding tension. So, in the cause of premarital and marital harmony, I want to suggest the following.

For the bride and groom:

1. Decide early on how much control you want over your wedding. If you are happy with your family or pastor planning it all, then ask them to do so. If you want to handle any or all of it yourself, kindly and firmly tell them that. Also let them know where you do want them involved.

2. Feel free to ask friends, family, and clergy for suggestions. Always accept them on the condition that you appreciate them and may or may not use them (and though some pastors will require certain things if you are to be married by them, the decision is still yours).

3. If you are planning your own wedding, get away by yourselves and decide exactly what you both want. Then stick to your guns. Be each other's first loyalty, parents and friends notwithstanding.

4. Ask for help. When you do, give a well-defined task and specific instructions on how you would like it done. And be sure to say "thanks" a couple dozen times.

5. Try to have a good time. Weddings, even preparing for them, ought to be meaningful and fun.

For friends and family:

1. This isn't your wedding. You care a great deal about the future success of these two. Let them get off to a good start by successfully planning their own marriage celebration.

2. Give suggestions only when asked. And if your favorite wedding idea doesn't get used, don't make an issue of it. Let your ideas be gifts, not demands.

3. If you are helping out, do only and exactly what is asked of you and do it cheerfully (or at least pretend).

4. Let everything you do and say promote harmony. Even if you can't stand your future son- or daughter-in-law's family or friends, keep your feelings to yourself. You don't have to live with them, but your son or daughter will.

5. Enjoy yourself. If you'll let the bride- and groom-to-be make the decision, you'll be able to relax and have a good time. A wedding is a celebration, not an ordeal (or, at least, that is how it is supposed to be).

This spring, newlyweds will be sprouting up all over. Some couples will survive the stress of modern marriage, some will not. Let's do all we can to ensure that the wedding process will be a supportive, nurturing experiencing that encourages the new relationship to grow and bloom in the years ahead.

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