How To Stay Sane While Planning for Your Wedding!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy 2014!

However richly inspired by love, marriage is a high wire act that is usually attempted by two nervous wrecks who just go for it, reeling with bliss and blind with the hots.  The rest is work, faith and destiny.

In 2013 I had the honor to officiate 72 “high wire acts.” They ranged from the first ever live-streamed wedding on Facebook to an elopement at Lifeguard Station #8 in Santa Monica.  Budgets for these seven-dozen weddings ranged from $500 to $1 million!

The couples were religiously and cross-culturally diverse; straight, gay and lesbian; and ranged in age from twenty-three to sixty-three.  Numbered among these couples were an ex-stripper, an ex-drag queen and a Republican ex-gubernatorial candidate!  They came not only from California but also from England, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, China, Japan, Taiwan and Canada.

As I recall my weddings of 2013 and what I learned from the couples, I’m reminded of Albert Einstein’s claim that “there are only two ways to live life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is.”  While “miracle” is a loaded word, at the very least a wedding is a grand embracing of life in all its glory and uncertainty and messiness.  Here are seven couples that chose to celebrate their “miracles” with grateful joy.  (names changed).

Roberto and Kristin.  Several months before their wedding he was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer and they had to put their wedding on hold.  On what should have been their wedding day, he was in chemo.  Throughout, they together stayed calm, focused, determined and hopeful.  They simply did what they had to do.  Now, at the start of this New Year, cancer free, they have their sights set on a May wedding. 

Sure, I hear about this kind of story all the time BUT to witness this kind of love – I am in awe.

Denise and Anthony.  Her family is ethnically Armenian and Greek-Orthodox by religion, while his family is Persian Muslim.  There were so many opportunities and reasons for dissension and fighting within and between the families.  And, yet, there wasn’t.  Both families gave their blessings.  Three hundred people came together to eat, drink, dance, sing, tell stories and celebrate, into the wee hours of the morning, life, love and family.

By celebrating what made them unique these families found what they shared in common.  That the cliché “love conquers all” still holds meaning is beyond heartening.

Brad and Cathy.  They planned a 2014 destination wedding and then Cathy’s mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.  Doctors advised Cathy that if she wanted her mom at the wedding, she should not wait for the Spring.  And so they cancelled their plans, lost their deposits and reimagined a smaller, less exotic celebration.  When I first met with them, Brad explained, “yes, we lost our budget, but the upside is we get to be married sooner!” 
Joy in the midst of devastating chaos is breath taking.

Natalie and Alexander.  Widowed before she turned thirty, Natalie had loved her husband and out of respect for him set about re-inventing her life.  She went back to school and took off to New Zealand for a semester.  Alexander was there from Germany working at a yearlong project.  Neither was looking for love, but love found them.  Now living in the mid-West they decided to have a small December beach wedding with ten family and friends.  They got married by a lifeguard station while a commercial was being filmed on the other side (so LA!).

Natalie mourned her first husband, chose life, and found joy halfway around the world.  Could have been a sappy Lifetime movie but instead hers is a story that challenges the pessimistic corners of my heart.

Donna and Michael.  They were a sweet, funny couple that got married in her mom’s backyard.  At our final meeting Michael told me that he couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be marrying someone as kind as Donna.  I told him that Donna was just as lucky.  He quickly replied, “you don’t understand – I had a knack for dating girls who would end up breaking my heart.  It was almost like I enjoyed punishing myself.  My last girlfriend was the worst.  I had to hit rock bottom before I could find Donna.”

In matters of the heart, we can be so unkind to ourselves.  I marvel that he had the capacity to hear a buried voice that let him remember what his heart longed for.

Jen and Kim.  Seven years ago I officiated their commitment ceremony during a magical weekend celebration in Napa.  Fifty of us had gathered to bless them as they offered their vows to create a life-giving life.  We all hoped that “someday” their union would be recognized for what it was – a marriage.  I suspect, though, few of us thought it would ever happen.  But so it did.  Last Fall they renewed their vows with their three-year-old twin daughters as flower girls.

Kim’s mom signed the marriage license as the official witness.  Her eyes glistened with joy – as did everyone’s.

Tanya and Jordan.  The day before our initial meeting, Tanya learned she was pregnant.  She came from a Colombian family of devout Catholics.  Her father was deceased and so her mom would walk her down the aisle.  When her mother learned that I was wearing a suit and not religious robes, she was concerned.  What will the family think?  Ah, mothers!  What makes her question poignant, though, is that after her husband died, Tanya’s mom fell in love with a woman – who has been her partner for ten years!    

While I puzzled at her fixation with my lack of robes, I also laughed with Tanya and Robert over how weddings wackily turn normal people’s brains upside-down!

Each of my 72 couples reminded me, week after week, that life is good and worthy of our best.

If the ultimate goal in life is to become ever more fully human, to love and be loved, then all my couples challenged me to be true to that quest.

For all getting married in 2014 and beyond may you find unbridled joy in your celebration!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Most Romantic Gift Of The Magi

One of my favorite Christmas stories is “The Gift Of The Magi” by O’Henry.  While the story is too long to print here, I recently came across Garrison Keillor’s poetic interpretation of it.
Stories don’t get any more romantic than this!
Merry! Merry!

Gift of the Magi
by: Garrison Keillor

In the tiny apartment on the Lower East Side,
The beautiful Della combed her long hair,
And thought about Christmas and bitterly cried,
For they had no money, no money to spare.

So little money, and Christmas was near,
And Jim worked so hard and for so little pay.
He’d grown discouraged, her darling, her dear
She must give him Christmas, she must find a way.

So she went to a wig shop and sold them her hair,
Her beautiful hair that her husband adored,
Her face was all pale as she sat in the chair,
And she cried as the barber cut it off short.

And out in the street, with a scarf on her head,
And the money in hand, Della searched through the shops,
And there in a window was the gift she must get:
A platinum chain Jim could hang on his watch.

His beautiful watch that his father had owned,
So handsome and beautiful, just like her Jim.
And she bought him the chain and gladly went home
And curled her short hair as she waited for him.

He opened the door and he saw her hair
And she ran to his side and tried to explain
It would grow back so quickly and she didn’t care
And she gave him the beautiful platinum chain.

Jim took her gift — how brightly it shone.
He covered his face and sighed in despair,
And he told her, “I bought you those tortoise shell combs,
Tortoiseshell combs for your beautiful hair.”

He had pawned his watch to buy her the combs,
To buy him the watch chain, she sold her hair
And the two of them looked at each other and groaned,
At the sight of the two useless gifts sitting there.

They sat holding hands and they started to laugh
At the beautiful emptiness of what they were wishing
The gift of the Magi is to hold what you have
And not think a minute of what you are missing.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Photo Of The Week 5

When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear ––
When our world deafened ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caressed ––
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again;
The eye sinks inward,
And the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and
What we would, we know,
Two become aware of life’s flow.

adapted from Matthew Arnold

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Because" Makes All The Difference

When having a difficult conversation with your partner (or relative, friend, vendor), perhaps the most important word you can say is: because.

I love hanging out with my eleven year old godson, Finn. He’s smart, bright and funny. One of the things he most enjoys when we’re together is coming up with ways to drive me crazy! For instance, he loves to ask me, “why?” When I say something, he’ll immediately ask, “why?” and no matter my answer, he’ll just respond, “why?” At first, I’ll try to come up with a real answer to his “why” question. Eventually, though, my brain fries and I’ll move on to wacky answers, until, I just yell, “because, that’s why!” And then he laughs.

This silly game actually replicates a very common pattern in our conversations. Often times we say something without exactly explaining what we mean. Then the other person will ask, “Why do you say that?” Then we usually give them a “because” reason. In Lyn’s case (see previous post), she would simply say, “because” without giving Danny any reason. “Because why” is what Danny was looking for.

Lyn, though, stubbornly believed that she shouldn’t have to give an explanation. The truth, though, is that we all want to know the “because why” the other person thinks, believes and acts the way they do. Giving people the “because” part of why you think something helps to give them a fuller sense of what you mean. 

When having a difficult conversation with your partner it’s helpful if you let your partner know “why” you think and feel the way you do “because” you’ll give them a clearer sense of what you need from them.

Eventually, begrudgingly, Lyn admitted that she saw how she wasn’t being fair to Danny “because” she didn’t help him understand why she felt the way she did.

Remember: you have a responsibility to help make it easier for your partner to understand what you need. Do that and you’ll increase your chances of getting heard and understood which will go a long way to helping you, and your partner, stay sane!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wedding Planning Tips From "Shamu"!

David Chelsea

I recently came across this articlethat first appeared in the New York Times six years ago!  While the author reflects on how Shamu (yes, that Shamu!) gave her insights into a happy marriage, I think her insights also apply to happy wedding planning. . .


NYT / June 25, 2006

AS I wash dishes at the kitchen sink, my husband paces behind me, irritated. "Have you seen my keys?" he snarls, then huffs out a loud sigh and stomps from the room with our dog, Dixie, at his heels, anxious over her favorite human's upset.

In the past I would have been right behind Dixie. I would have turned off the faucet and joined the hunt while trying to soothe my husband with bromides like, "Don't worry, they'll turn up." But that only made him angrier, and a simple case of missing keys soon would become a full-blown angst-ridden drama starring the two of us and our poor nervous dog.

Now, I focus on the wet dish in my hands. I don't turn around. I don't say a word. I'm using a technique I learned from a dolphin trainer.

I love my husband. He's well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I'm trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. "What did you say?" he'll shout.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.

We went to a counselor to smooth the edges off our marriage. She didn't understand what we were doing there and complimented us repeatedly on how well we communicated. I gave up. I guessed she was right — our union was better than most — and resigned myself to stretches of slow-boil resentment and occasional sarcasm.

Then something magical happened.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Emotions Always Trump Logic!

true story
Lyn and Danny (names changed) came to me for pre-marital counseling. Lyn was uneasy—everything was fine, so what were they doing seeing me? I explained that my approach is from a communications angle and I don’t have a structured format.

Still uneasy, she said they didn’t have any problems communicating, though at times she “might” be a bit too passive in their arguments—especially when Danny’s his usual “pigheaded” self.

Danny readily admitted that he’s competitive and enjoys arguing even when he knows he’s wrong—even with Lyn.

I asked Lyn if she enjoyed arguing when he was in the “zone.” She said it didn’t matter because although she hates it, she just shuts down and lets him have his way.  At this point, Danny jumped in saying that he hated when she shuts down. I asked if he heard why she shuts down. “Yes, but. . .” and before he could finish, Lyn demanded, “Then why do you do it? You know I don’t want to argue. I just want to get what I want,” she matter-of-factly explained.

“There, that’s the kind of attitude I don’t like,” said Danny. “She doesn’t take what I say seriously. I’ll explain why we need to do something a certain way and she just ignores everything I say.”
“Is that true?” I asked Lyn.

“I know what he’s going to say and I don’t want to be told I can’t have something when I feel I should have it. He doesn’t respect me when he doesn’t listen to why I want something.”

Exasperated, Danny tossed out, “She doesn’t have reasons for anything. All she has are feelings.”

I want to point out that Danny and Lyn were actually very polite in the way they spoke to each other—this was not a shouting match.

However, by dint of personality and profession (engineer) Danny values logic. Lyn, by dint of personality and profession (sales), values feelings. He thinks logic is going to win the day because that’s how logic is supposed to work. But, as soon as Lyn begins to feel that he’s clobbering her with facts, she shuts down. “What’s the use? He’s not interested in what I have to say” is her mantra. Then Danny becomes frustrated when he sees her give up. He wants her to fight for her ideas. He’s a competitor and that’s what competitors do!

They’ve created dance steps for arguing. He lectures. She shuts down. He pushes harder. She digs in her heels (very expensive ones). Then—silence. He’s frustrated and she plots to get what she wants without his help. 

I asked Danny if, when he’s in an argument with Lyn, he notices that she’s becoming passive. He said he does. “Then, why keep hammering her with the logic?” His response was so simple: “I want her to see it my way.” The frustrating thing for him is that at no time has she said, “You’re right—I wasn’t thinking straight.”

So why does he persist? Embarrassed, he admitted, “It’s fun—frustrating, but fun!”
Lyn has just one goal when arguing with Danny—“To get what I want. I’ll plead and then when I get frustrated, I’ll just ask, ‘what do I have to do to get X?’”

When I asked her if she asks in a tone of voice dripping with attitude she flashed a guilty smile. “Do you pout; cross your arms, and make it sound like a demand if not an ultimatum?” She looked shocked that I knew.

She tuned him out when he started to lecture. He tuned her out when she started to pout. No one likes a know-it-all and no one likes a whiner. And no one is going to put up with either.

So, what to do? Well, it’s not possible to magically change personality; nor is there any reason to do so. However, choices can be made in how to communicate.

Lyn needs to understand that “because it feels good” is not a reason that’s going to advance her cause. How do you respond to a reason like that? And Danny needs to understand that people don’t always make decisions based on what’s most logical. 

He needs to help her explore her feelings so as to help Lyn understand what she’s really thinking. And, she needs to help Danny explore his thoughts so as to help him understand what he’s feeling.

Because what we think influences how we feel and how we feel influences what we think, Lyn needs to understand the reasoning that’s generating her feelings and Danny needs to understand the feelings generating his “logic.” Life is seldom lived at the extremes—it’s lived in the messiness of the middle—and the middle is made up of both thoughts and feelings.

When I told all this to Danny and Lyn they each said, “What’s the point? We know how we’re going to react.” Like Danny and Lyn, do you feel frustrated that your arguments are all Groundhog’s Day—a droning repetition of clichés that ultimately don’t get you what you need and want?

Well the truth is you won’t know what the other person is going to say if you talk with them in a way that is different from the old dance steps. New ways of dealing with conflict will bring about new conversations.

• Are you satisfied with the way you and your partner deal with conflict?
• What would you like to see each of you do differently?
• What does a “good fight” look like to you?

Remember: You protect and keep each other sane when you give up the need to win, give up shutting down, and when you resolve to help your partner explain what he or she is feeling, thinking and needing—and when you work to understand what you’re feeling, thinking, and needing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Photo Of The Week 4

Love has nothing to do with
what you are expecting to get,
only with what you are 
expecting to give —
which is everything.

Katherine Hepburn

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How This Assertiveness “Thing” Works

Some more thoughts on how to speak your mind – assertively. . .

Sure, yelling fells good.
Driving your partner nuts can be delicious.
Not saying anything is comfortingly easy.

BUT, eventually, each of these tactics will leave you feeling more frustrated, more annoyed and more hopeless.

Why? Because your partner (or friend, or relative, or vendor) still doesn’t know just what “your problem” is. If anything, they’re just going to presume that the “problem” is of your own making and has little, if anything, to do with them.

This is why as awkward and uncomfortable and unnatural as it may be, you have a responsibility to help the other person understand what it is you need from them.
This is why I’m encouraging you to both think and speak assertively.

Speaking assertively requires that you do three things:

FIRST, let your partner know what particular situation you’re reacting to. You need to be as objective as possible as you simply describe the event or pattern you’re addressing.

THEN let your partner know how all this makes you feel; help your partner try to understand why you’re bothered. Don’t accuse or blame. Take responsibility for how you’re feeling (remember to speak using “I”) and take the time to describe those feelings in a way that can make sense to your partner.

LASTLY, let your partner know what you’d like from him or her—what you need, why it’s a need, why it’s important to you and to the relationship.
Does this come naturally? No. Most of us never had this way of dealing with conflict modeled for us. This is, though, a proven way to improve your chances of getting heard and understood when dealing with significant issues involving significant people in the planning process. Why? Because your intent is not to humiliate.

Your goal is not to play the blame game or to guilt trip your partner. Your goal is to get him or her to understand the unintended effect of their actions so they can readjust their behavior.

If that sounds too clinical and too theoretical, next posting I tell you how all this played out with a sweet couple who is very much like so many of us!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Photo Of the Week 3

Love consists in this:
that two solitudes
greet each other.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Speaking Your Mind - gulp!

true story

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

The proverbial final straw was when Moira, her mother, and her four bridesmaids 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 and told her she was being unreasonable. And so they went round and round. Tears, accusations, and all the stuff of emotional blackmail.

Eventually, her mother admitted that, most likely, the women hadn’t intended to be rude and she may have misinterpreted what they said. Still, though, she wanted Moira to demand that they apologize.

At the time we met, things were frosty between Moira and her mother. Moira had had it and 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 needed to 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. And so for the conversation about her mother’s melodramatic ploys, I suggested she do something along these lines:

Ask your mother if the two of you can have a talk. Reassure her that you’re happy she’s interested in the wedding and that you know she wants it to be a perfect day. Remind her that you can’t imagine any of it without her being with you. Reaffirm that you do take her input seriously and that when you disagree with her and go with what you want, it’s not a rejection of her support. Remind her that just having her by your side through all of this is the greatest gift.

Once Moira reassured her mother that this whole planning process wasn’t a referendum on their love and relationship, she could then move on to a discussion of the dress and the bridesmaids.

I suggested a script like this:
I love my wedding dress. I know that it’s not the one you liked. It is, though, the one I love and I’m glad you were there with me when I found it. I’m sorry that things got out of hand with the girls. I don’t think they meant to be cruel or hurt you in any way. And I think you know that, too. I know 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.

Stilted? Yes. Unnatural? Sure, since this isn’t how Moira and her mother were in the habit of talking to each other. It is, though, a blueprint for talking assertively and for drawing boundaries.

Moira resisted, saying that she thought her mother would still throw a fit, so why bother. 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.

You might be expecting me to write that Moira tried my approach and all was happily resolved with her mother. Well, not exactly. Moira did reassure her mother that she appreciated everything she was doing and explained that rejecting her suggestions was not a rejection of her. That went a long way to calming her mother’s insecurities.

However, Moira’s conversation about the dress didn’t go as well. Her mother dug in her heels. Ah, pride! Within a week, though, Moira’s mother realized that she wasn’t going to get any traction from harping about the incident. After their talk, when Moira’s mother wanted to drag it up again, Moira would firmly, politely stop her. She reminded her mother that this was not her problem and that her mother needed to take it up with the girls. Eventually, Moira’s mom and the bridesmaids had their talk and she got her apology. And Moira stayed clear of it all.
As the wedding drew closer, Moira’s mom tried to stir up some drama but by then Moira felt more confident in speaking directly to her and setting boundaries.

Old habits die hard, yet by the time Moira walked down the aisle, she and her mother had laid the groundwork for a healthier, less drama-filled way of talking with each other.
And Zach, Moira’s husband, was a very relieved man!

Sanity Saver Questions:
• What is your gut reaction to reading this chapter?
• What concerns you the most about speaking assertively?
• Are you and your partner willing to practice being more mindfully assertive with each other and with difficult family and friends?

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, November 12, 2013

Photo Of The Week 2

In that book which is my memory,
on the first page of the chapter
that is the day when I first met you,
appear the words:
‘here begins a new life.’

Saturday, November 9, 2013

“Driving You Nuts Is So Much Fun!”

true story
Rhonda and Bill (names changed) were planning their wedding without the help of a coordinator. Although Rhonda’s job required her to travel out of state several weeks a month, she was an organized person and 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 the detailed lists she gave him. He never completed a list and it didn’t seem to bother him. “It’ll all be fine,” was his motto.

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 she pleaded with me, “How do I get him to do what’s on the lists? How do I get him to understand that if he doesn’t do this stuff it isn’t going to get done?”

Bill looked sheepish and promised her 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?”

And so it went, until 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.”

I was shocked. Bill and Rhonda laughed a lot while planning the ceremony and they seemed in sync. Although they snapped at each other in this meeting, this was not their usual dance step. Unlike Andy and Sara, Bill and Rhonda avoided conflict. Rhonda usually was passive while Bill perfected being passive-aggressive and now he’d driven her to the breaking point.

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 resented being saddled with long to-do lists of things he thought were silly and unnecessary. 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.”

Other classic passive-aggressive techniques by which you can drive your partner crazy include:

Silent treatment. You just stop talking to the person and then, when some time has passed and your partner asks, “Is anything wrong?” you look surprised and say, “Wrong? No. Why would you think that?”

Martyr. The stuff of Oscars. Your partner wants to play golf rather than accompany you to a meeting with one of the vendors. Instead of telling him why it’s important he goes, you simply say: “That’s okay. I can meet with the photographer alone.” And when he asks if you’re sure, with a tired voice you reply: “Yes; don’t worry about it—have fun.” Later you complain that he should have known you wanted him to go with you—and that you’re sick of his not caring!

Withhold. Your partner wants something and you deny it to them. She wants you to go somewhere and you say you’re tired. And here’s where the all time classic line comes into play: “No, not tonight. I have a headache.”

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!

Sanity Saver Questions:
• Is being passive-aggressive your preferred style for dealing with conflict?
• From whom did you learn this style?
• Do you like seeing what it does to your partner? If you do, then why are you marrying someone you enjoy punishing?

Remember: there will be enough family members and friends who will say and do outrageous things in the weeks and months ahead that will drive you and your partner to a primal scream. So, why torment each other when other people will do that for you?!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Photo Of The Week

We need a witness to our lives. 
There's a billion people on the planet… 
I mean, what does any one life really mean? 
But in a marriage, 
you're promising to care about everything. 
The good things, the bad things, 
the terrible things, the mundane things -
all of it, all of the time, every day. 
You're saying:
'Your life will not go unnoticed 
because I will notice it.
Your life will not go un-witnessed 
because I will be your witness.’
From the movie: "Shall We Dance?"

Monday, October 28, 2013

When Tensions Build. . .

I hope this posting doesn’t apply to you. . .but just in case it does. . .

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 melt-down 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.

We sat down, I smiled and simply asked, “What’s up?” Silence. Anger, not stress, 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 as 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; to say hurtful things to each other that they didn’t know what to do with. 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.
Andy and Sara had a far more complicated relationship than I’d been aware of. Part of what made their dynamic so rough was the manner in which they dealt with difficult conversations. 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.

Avoid, simmer, erupt, hurt, and then retreat. This was their pattern. Classic aggressive behavior.

Sanity Saver Questions:
• Do you enjoy yelling at your partner?
• Do you enjoy putting your partner down in front of other people?
• Have you ever said, “I hate you!” to your partner?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these questions, then I suggest you put aside this book and search for a counselor and put your wedding plans on hold.

Remember: 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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Don't Rock The Boat"

true story
Robbie’s father (names changed) had never approved of Nina, his fiancée, as no one was good enough for his son. When they were dating, Robbie’s father was barely civil to Nina, but Robbie shrugged it off with, “that’s just dad being dad.” Once they began planning for their wedding, Robbie’s father made demands on Nina, disapproving many of her decisions.

Again, Robbie shrugged it off with, “that’s just how he is.” Nina kept her feelings bottled up because she didn’t want to disrespect her future father-in-law.

Three months before the wedding I met with them and within minutes Nina broke down. She could no longer deal with Robbie’s father. Robbie was surprised as he didn’t know things had gotten to this point.

Turns out, while growing up, Robbie learned to deal with his father’s tantrums by simply shrugging him off and not confronting him. In the face of his father’s overbearing ways, Robbie learned to “vanish.”

Nina, who is Indian, was taught that women should not question what a man says as a woman must know her place.” She learned not to cause waves in the face of conflict.
As we talked, Robbie realized he could no longer leave Nina to deal with his father alone.

The old ways, the old dance steps, of handling his father no longer worked. After our meeting, they had a long talk and strategized how to contain Robbie’s father and protect themselves during the final stages of planning.

By the time of their wedding, boundaries were in place and Robbie’s father haltingly was learning to treat Nina with a new found respect.

Initially, Robbie and Nina embodied a passive approach to Robbie’s dad. They avoided dealing with him in a way that would have let him know what they were thinking and feeling. They crossed their fingers, closed their eyes and simply hoped it would all turn out for the best! However, it wouldn’t until they told Robbie’s dad what they wanted from him.

Sanity Saver Questions:
• Do you prefer to be passive when dealing with difficult situations?
• From whom did you learn this pattern?
• Does it allow you and your partner to effectively resolve what needs resolving?

Remember: we train people how to treat us. If you endure a person’s troubling behavior, choosing to do nothing, then they will not change. They don’t know that you’re suffering and your silence gives them no incentive to change.

Friday, October 11, 2013

There Will Be Arguments!


true story

Two weeks before her wedding, Kelly (names changed) called me—upset. The night before, she and her fiancé, Jeff, had a fight. At the end of the argument, he snapped: “You think you know everything about me, but you don’t.”

I now think she’s calling to tell me that she’s canceling the wedding. Instead, she asks: “Do you think this is a red flag?”

Red flag? No, this is a RED CURTAIN!

I asked if she was curious as to what he’d meant when he said she didn’t know “everything” about him. Kelly told me that Jeff often vented and yelled, but that he didn’t mean anything by it. I was still curious since if he doesn’t mean anything by it, why does he yell? She had no answer.

A few days later, Kelly called to tell me that all was fine and back to “normal.” No, Jeff hadn’t apologized and, no, she still hadn’t asked him what he meant by that cryptic, snarling statement. She decided to let well enough alone—to let the pattern of their arguing remain in place despite the stress it continually caused her.

Kelly had talked herself into believing that there was nothing wrong with this dynamic. “It’s just how he is,” was her mantra. Besides, she was worried that if she confronted him, she’d hurt his feelings. She didn’t want to antagonize the situation by asking him to explain himself, as she “knew” he loved her.

Fear of confrontation. Fear of conflict. These are fears shared by many of us and Kelly was no different. But it’s essential to understand that conflict is a natural part of every relationship. Odd as it may sound, you can’t have a healthy relationship without conflict.

Over time, you and your partner have developed ways to deal with uncomfortable situations, conversations, and conflict. I call these “dance steps” and you’ve developed them without much conscious thought. The question is: do these dance steps let you and your partner get what you need in a way that’s honest and healthy?

As you plan for your wedding, arguments most likely will arise – between you and your fiancé, between you and relatives or friends.  Part of staying sane is knowing how to deal with those sticky situations.  In upcoming posts, I’ll offer tips and tricks for navigating difficult moments.  For now, though, here are some questions to get you thinking about you and your relationship to “conflict.”

Sanity Saver Questions:

• What do you enjoy about conflict? What do you not enjoy?
• Do you know what your partner enjoys or doesn’t enjoy about conflict?
• What would you like to see more of when you and your partner have a difficult conversation? What would you like to see less of?