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posted: 9/26/2013 11:56 AM

Tips for avoiding wedding warfare

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A current TV show is titled "Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?"

The premise is that planning a wedding is fraught with challenges and, too often, disappointments. And since it is "reality" TV, it, of course, focuses on the trials and tribulations of the bride and groom to be as they attempt to put together an often lavishly expensive wedding.

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Most of us have had the experience of attending a wedding where we were pretty sure things were a bit tense behind the scenes. And sometimes the tension was anything but "behind the scenes," spilling over on to center stage and making things uncomfortable for everyone involved.

I've had the privilege of officiating at a couple dozen weddings over the course of my professional career and probably attended at least a couple of dozen more. I've seen wedding wars from a number of vantage points.

Though I've always managed to steer clear of these conflicts, I have seen how destructive they can be, and also have come up with some ideas as to how we might prevent them.

Let's face it; few things can do as much long-term damage to family relationships as the sorts of conflicts that arise around planning and participating in weddings.

We put so much emotional intensity into weddings (not to mention so much money), and expect so much from them that we probably shouldn't be surprised that everybody is on edge from the get go.

And, despite the approximately 50 percent divorce rate and perhaps as high as 80 percent remarriage rate, we also go in to every wedding assuming it will be our only, or at least our last, chance to get it right. Talk about pressure.

I've seen brides and grooms come to blows, mothers and daughters stop talking to each other, bridesmaids refuse to wear particular gowns, groomsmen damage wedding limos, not to mention family boycotts and walk outs. I've only seen one wedding actually called off because of the pre-wedding pandemonium, but I've seen so much damage done in other situations that the marriages were certainly put in jeopardy.

I did mention that I've got a couple of suggestions for avoiding such wedding warfare. Even if you disagree with me, they might be some things to at least think about.

1. First, let the bride and groom plan their wedding. If other family members want to help out, great, but it needs to be an offer, not a demand. Mothers and mothers-in-law in particular need to be really careful not to get too involved in the decision making. In fact, I suggest they offer advice only when asked and otherwise just help with the grunt work.

2. Second, if parents or other family members are paying for all or part of the festivities, they should set a limit for what they are willing to contribute and stick to it. If a couple wants a more expensive wedding than their families' budgets allow, let them pick up the difference.

3. Notice I said "families' budgets." One recent trend is for the groom's family to chip in for wedding expenses. Some couples I've worked with even do a three-way split. This makes sense when you think about it, since both families will be present at the various activities.

4. No matter who is paying, families should not assume that money equals access (that's unfortunately true in politics, but shouldn't be true in weddings). Such money is a gift. As I mentioned above, let the bride and groom plan their wedding.

5. Keep in mind that there is absolutely no correlation between the size, sophistication, or cost of a wedding and the eventual success of the marriage. If anything, there may even be a negative correlation, as the more complicated the wedding the greater chance there is to do damage to the marriage.

6. Finally, remember that people get professional certificates in event planning. Unless you have one, assume that things will go wrong. I tell couples whose weddings I officiate at to count on at least one major thing going wrong -- usually it is two or three.

Hey, if we can't roll with the punches when it comes to our weddings, what does that say about our ability to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of marriage?

This is a short list. There are a number of books out there about the ins and outs of planning weddings that are worth reading. I think you'll find that most of them pretty much agree with what I'm suggesting.

If you're in the midst of planning your wedding, congratulations and good luck. It can be a wonderfully memorable experience, or a nightmare. It's up to you.

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