How To Stay Sane While Planning for Your Wedding!

Friday, September 19, 2014

It's All About Creating Happy Memories

The other day I was on line at a Starbucks when a man tapped me on the shoulder.  I turned around and had no idea who the guy was.  He smiled and asked if I was “JP”.  He then told me that I had officiated his wedding 9 ½ years ago in Westlake Village.  Suddenly, I recognized Fred and certainly remembered his wife, Rosanna.  I was blown away that he remembered me! 

Fred told me that he and Rosanna were grateful that I had been a part of their day and that they still smile when they look at photos of their ceremony.

I was very moved – and I share this, not to give myself a pat on the back BUT to let you know that Fred reminded me that I’m really not in the business of marrying people. 


I’m really in the business of creating happy, life-giving memories.

And for that, I’m grateful. . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What You're Really Doing When You Get Married

Anyone who knows me knows that I love officiating weddings.  I love celebrating a ceremony for a host of reasons – and one of those reasons is that I get to be a part of one of the most intimate moments in a couple’s life.  I know – that might sound a tad kinky!

But I’ve been thinking about this throughout the summer.  I’ve looked at brides and grooms, straight and gay, and I marvel at what I see.  I see people who are downright daring in their embrace of life – no matter how nervous or whack-a-do they may appear!

It struck me this summer with a new found force that when two people enter into marriage, it really is a
Confounding and generous pledge.

Here’s what I think you’re pledging (and what I’m helping you to celebrate):

You’re pledging. . .

To be the witness of each other’s life
To help each other make sense of life’s surprises
To create a legacy together
To be steady for each other in the midst of randomness
To find peace in the routine of everyday life
To give each other life but not be each other’s life
To trust you will be valued even when you’ve forgotten how
To be brave in sickness
To believe “we can” and “we will” in all those WTF moments
To make yourself necessary to your spouse
To believe that together you’re smarter than any smart phone
To believe that friends and family deserve a place at your table laden with good food, good drink and good story

And in pledging all this, I think you’re also admitting that neither of you really understand the true meaning of what you’re vowing BUT that you are committed to understanding it more clearly day in and day out – all the days of your life.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wedding Ceremony Podcast!

Remember to visit my weekly podcast,
cohosted with (Rev.) Clint Hufft,
in which we discuss all things ceremony!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Kristin and Meredith Learned About Marriage From Their Parents!

At the beginning of 2014 I hit on what I thought was a great idea for this blog.  I reached out to half-a-dozen close friends whose weddings I officiated and who’ve been married for ten or more years.  I asked each couple to write a guest post – offering advice to those of you who are now in the throes of prepping for your wedding.

Everyone loved the idea and assured me that they’d “get back” in a few short weeks.  Well, as time passed, all of my friends confessed that they didn’t know what to write!  “This is hard!” was the general chorus.

Then I hit on the idea of turning to Meredith and Kristin, daughters of my friends Ray & Stephanie.  To say that I’m their honorary uncle or even godfather doesn’t quite capture what I am.  It’s been my honor and delight and joy to witness them grow up – from cute babies to beautiful young women (though I refuse to acknowledge just how old either really is).

I asked Kristin and Meredith to write a guest post in which they reflect on what they’ve learned about marriage from their parents. 

So here are the. . .
Top 12 Truths Of Marriage Meredith and Kristin Learned 
From Their Parents, Stephanie & Ray

1.     Not saying anything is often the best route to take. 
Silence can sometimes be more powerful than words. In a situation where your spouse is in a huff over something, or deeply offended, and just needs to speak their mind, listening is often the BEST move to make. You don’t always need to add your opinion, just listen to them.

2.     It’s important to show your love. 
Regardless of the anniversary, little surprises help to show you care more than a set date.   My parents give each other cards on random occasions. If they find a funny picture of a crab, they might give it to the other “just because”. Who doesn’t love talking crabs?

3.     Taking time away from kids, friends, and work, to spend some alone time together never hurts.
Who doesn’t like mini-vacations?  This is essential because my sister and I….well we can be quite a handful bickering often, being loud and obnoxious – but, beside the point, you need to spend alone time to deepen your own relationship in addition to the family relationship.

4.     A marriage has to have respect for one another: each other’s goals, who you are as a person, and the wonderfulness you see in your partner.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I have never seen my parents disrespect each other because disrespect often times causes mistrust and insecurity, and no one wants that.  Respect in my family looks like: listening while the other is speaking, speaking words of encouragement when they are applying for a job, or redoing a resume, and most often: sitting through innumerous seasons of the bachelorette/ bachelor without mocking!

5.     Don’t go to bed angry.
Sometimes you just need to let things go. You are not going to agree with your partner 100% of the time, if you did then that would be extremely boring and uneventful!  But seriously, it’s only natural to have differing opinions on a few things. Talk through what is bothering you and then come to a compromise or leave it be until you both are more rested and less irrational.  These are ways that I have seen my parents live this cliché.

6.     Always say I love you. But you have to mean it because if you didn’t mean it, then you probably shouldn’t be married!
All the time my parents say, “I love you”, to me and my sister so as to remind us that they do (even though we already know).  It’s been a tradition in my family to always say it before going to sleep. It has become part of our routine and it’s important to me.  I have to say it otherwise I rest uneasy. It might sound silly, but it’s comforting and, in my opinion, it’s the most wonderful phrase you can be told.

7.     Life does not always go according to plan, but you have to roll with punches. 
We’ve moved about 3 times. The last time was due to unforeseen circumstances with relatives. However, no matter where we were, my parents made it clear that we did not need anything but each other. There was a point in which we were in between finding a home and a place to live, so I called us “homeless” because I’m dramatic, but also because that’s what I thought we were. I was wrong. My dad, my mom, my sister, and I were all together and that is my definition of “home”.

8.     Work together, not against each other.
As the saying goes, “it’s you and me against the world.” If conflicts arise, work together to find a solution instead of blaming each other for the problem. Working against each other will not get you anywhere, particularly if you need to get somewhere quickly!  I’ve seen my parents work this way so many times in my life, especially when it comes to big life decisions. When we decided to move abruptly when I was going into the 7th grade, they stood behind their decision, though it was very unpopular with my sister and me.

9.     With a relationship based on friendship, their first impulse is to support each other and the decisions they make as a couple as well as supporting the decisions, of us, their children.
Collaboration in marriage is essential. Could be the best project of your life!
Working patiently together, whether in a creative or problem-solving sense, will bring you closer together and help you produce something that is fulfilling for both of you. Whether this be in larger projects – like repainting every room of every house you’ve ever lived in or in smaller projects, like teaching your daughters how to correctly open and store wine—the positive and encouraging energy my parents bring to every situation shows how much they care, not only about each other but about those around them.

10.  Remember every day the things you love about your spouse, especially what initially drew you to him or her.
I love hearing my parents tell stories about their time in high school, when they met and about their friends who still surround them to this day.  My dad was in theatre, ran for student government and took German, while my mom was on drill team, waitressed at Marie Callendar’s, and was in a social action club that helped orphans in Tijuana.  They were friends and continued to be throughout their early adult life.  They both took different roads: my mom dated a lot of people and my dad entered the seminary to become a priest, but they both acknowledge that there was an attraction between the two of them from the beginning – one they then returned to later in life.

11.  Tell and share stories!
It’s a great way to allow the people around you be part of the story of your lives and your marriage. It also helps your children understand you more and see the journey you took to find your partner in life.  Hearing my parents’ favorite stories, of their proposal or of when my sister and I were very young, allow me to recall and retell favorite stories from my own life and of my family.  And even family folklore and history adds to my sense of belonging and identity.  Like when my dad used to tell us his ancestors were horse thieves in Germany and my mom used to say her side of the family was related to Lord Baltimore (as in Baltimore, Maryland)!

12.  Actions speak louder than words.
You can always tell how much my parents care about each other from their interactions. They share a great sense of humor about life. The way they look at each other and laugh, sometimes about what someone has said or done in our house, gives me a glimpse into the feelings they have had, and continue to have for each other for decades. Their day-to-day treatment of each other, and us kids, is filled with kindness, understanding and a dose of comedy, which I hope to have in my own relationships in the future.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Speaking Your Mind – gulp! Being Assertive

In my last three postings, I’ve highlighted the most common ways in which people deal with conflict.  Now I look at the fourth (and least understood) “dance step”. 

By the time I met with Moira (name changed), she was beyond distressed. The problem was her mother, who criticized almost every choice she’d made in the wedding planning. Moira’s mother expressed her disappointment with tears, tantrums and long silences.

The proverbial final straw was when Moira, her four bridesmaids and her mother went gown shopping. Everyone except her mom fell in love with “the” dress. Apparently, the bridesmaids teased her mom for not supporting Moira in her choice. Later, Moira’s mom broke down sobbing, accusing the bridesmaids of being disrespectful.

She demanded that Moira force her friends to apologize and if they didn’t, she wanted Moira to un-invite them as bridesmaids. Moira refused.  Tears, accusations, and all the stuff of emotional blackmail ensued.

Eventually, her mother admitted that, most likely, the women hadn’t intended to be rude and she may have misinterpreted what they said. Still, she wanted Moira to demand that they apologize.
At the time we met, things were frosty between Moira and her mother. Moira didn’t care if she came to the wedding or not. But, of course, she cared—why else would she cry when she said she didn’t care?

She told me that this was how things went between her and her mother. They argued; didn’t talk; and then got back together—without ever resolving what first led them into not talking. Theirs had been a dance that alternated between being passive and passive-aggressive.

There is, though, one other dance step and that’s to be assertive. You’re assertive when you decide to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs to a person in a clear and respectful way without playing games.

Of all the dance steps, this is the one that most people are unfamiliar with. Yet, it’s the one technique that has the greatest chance of reducing stress and increasing your chances of getting heard.

I suggested to Moira that she have two different conversations with her mother. The first conversation needed to be about the general pattern with which her mother dealt with their disagreements. They had to talk about her emotional blackmail, i.e. unfair demands followed by teary tantrums. Only then could they have the second conversation, which was about the wedding dress incident.

Oftentimes people are difficult because they don’t think they’re appreciated. Most likely, some of that was going on with Moira’s mother.

Here’s the strategy I laid out for Moira, so as to be assertive and draw boundaries.

I suggested she first reassure her mother that she was happy she’s interested in the wedding and wants it to be a perfect day. She also needed to reaffirm that when they disagreed, it was not a rejection of her support.

Once Moira reassured her mother that this whole planning process wasn’t a referendum on their love, she moved on to a discussion of the dress and the bridesmaids (source of the most recent argument).

I suggested a script like this:
“I love my wedding dress. I know it’s not the one you liked. It is, though, the one I love and I’m glad you were there when I found it. I’m sorry things got out of hand with the girls.  They didn’t mean to hurt you. I think you know that, too.  They want to speak with you and I hope you let them explain what happened. I’m not getting into the middle of this, though, and I don’t want you to give me ultimatums. I feel that you’re pressuring me to take sides and to punish good friends for what is just a misunderstanding. I don’t want this dress to remind me of something that grew way ugly and way out of proportion. I know you don’t want that, either.”

Although Moira resisted, I urged her to give it a try—it’s not like her mother was going to be more reasonable using any of the old tactics.

Moira reassured her mother that she appreciated everything she was doing and explained that rejecting her suggestions wasn’t a rejection of her. That helped to calm her mother’s insecurities.

However, Moira’s conversation about the dress didn’t go as well. Within a week, though, Moira’s mother realized she wasn’t going to get any traction from harping about the incident.  Eventually, Moira’s mom and the bridesmaids had their talk and she got her apology.

As the wedding drew closer, Moira’s mom tried to stir up more drama but by then Moira felt confident speaking directly to her.  By the time Moira walked down the aisle, she and her mother had laid the groundwork for a healthier way of talking with each other.

And Zach, Moira’s husband, was a relieved man!

Remember: having a hard conversation is hard because we’re not used to this “dance step.” However, no good can come from shouting, shutting down, or manipulating someone we claim to care about. With understanding comes clarity, the bedrock for resolution and healing!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“Driving You Nuts Is So Much Fun!"

Continuing to look at conflict styles, here’s some thoughts on the “delicious” ways of being passive-aggressive!

Rhonda and Bill (names changed) were planning their wedding without the help of a coordinator. Although Rhonda’s job required her to travel several weeks a month, she felt up to the task of having a DIY wedding. Bill worked local and said he was willing to do whatever she wanted, though he thought she was obsessive with her detailed lists. He never actually completed a list, shrugging it off saying, “It’ll all be fine.”

I had a final meeting with them a little more than a month before the wedding. Rhonda looked stressed and exhausted, while Bill seemed uncomfortable. Rhonda was going to be out of town for the next week and a half and pleaded with me, “How do I get him to do what’s on the lists?  If he doesn’t do this stuff it isn’t going to get done?”

Bill promised he’d get everything done. “Why should I believe you?” she snapped. “You say you’re going to get it done and you never do. Do you even want to get married?”

Bill finally shot back, “Maybe if you didn’t treat me like an idiot, I’d pay more attention to what you want me to do!” He turned to me and in a mixture of sarcasm and resignation said, “If I didn’t tune her out, I’d lose my mind.”

Bill was classic passive-aggressive in that he had strong feelings of resentment and anger and was unwilling to express those feelings in an honest way.  He felt put upon by Rhonda and instead of having an honest conversation with her, he’d simply “forget” to do things. Any time Rhonda panicked, he’d accuse her of not trusting him and getting upset over “nothing.”

You choose to be passive-aggressive when you decide that your partner needs to be punished for hurting you and part of the punishment is that they’re not going to know you’re punishing them!

Two other classic passive-aggressive techniques are giving the “silent treatment” and withholding.  In the “silent treatment” you stop talking to the person and then, when some time has passed and your partner asks, “Is anything wrong?” you look surprised and say, “No. Why would you think that?”  In the withholding technique, your partner wants something and you deny it to them. She wants you to go somewhere and you say you’re tired. Here’s where the all time classic line comes into play: “No, not tonight. I have a headache”!

Is being passive-aggressive your preferred style for dealing with conflict?  Do you like seeing what it does to your partner? If so, why do enjoy punishing the person?!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

“I’m Not Yelling – You Are!"

In my last post I looked at the conflict “dance step” of being passive.  Now I’m going to take a look at the dance step of being aggressive.

True story
Ten days before Andy and Sara’s wedding (names changed), their event planner called and asked if I’d meet with them at their home. Things were in meltdown mode. I’d finalized their ceremony more than a month before. It was a brief meeting and while they were stressed, they seemed no more so than most couples. Now, though, I could feel the tension when I walked into their house.

When we sat down, I smiled and simply asked, “What’s up?” Silence. Anger creased their faces. I asked Sara what had happened. She began talking about Andy as though he weren’t in the room. It was hard to follow what she was saying, but it soon became a litany of what he’d done wrong.

Suddenly, Andy exploded, “SHUT UP! I’M SICK OF YOUR LIES!” And, yes, I was now worried since he was bigger than I am and looked like he’d mentally snapped. They launched into a yelling match, totally ignoring me. I’ll admit that I was mesmerized since it was like I’d been transported to the set of a reality show!

But then I came to my senses and tried to intervene. Being polite and officiant-like wasn’t going to do the job, so I tapped into my New York voice and shouted, “YO!” They turned and looked at me seeming almost confused as to what I was doing in their home. Sara quickly looked embarrassed, while Andy just steamed.

What had gone so wrong between them? Well, they had an infant (unplanned). They were building a home. They had unresolved and non-discussed money issues. They had no time to talk, just time to argue and lash out.  Their jumbled, poorly expressed emotions left them exhausted as they crawled to what they called the “finish line” of their wedding planning. It sounded, though, more like the finish line of their relationship.

Because they weren’t skilled at talking with each other; because they avoided the tough and messy issues; because they were overwhelmed by their intense feelings, all they could do was scream, accuse and belittle each other.   

Do you enjoy yelling at your partner?  Do you enjoy putting your partner down in front of other people?  Do you regularly say, “I hate you!” to your partner?  If you answered “yes” to these questions, then classic aggressive behavior is your preferred way of dealing with conflict.

Yelling, humiliating and hating are clear indicators that your relationship needs professional care and attention. Screaming, belittling and accusing are not the ways in which you protect and keep each other safe – personally or professionally.