How To Stay Sane While Planning for Your Wedding!

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?"