How To Stay Sane While Planning for Your Wedding!

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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Don"t Rock The Boat!

In my last post, I told the story of how we all develop “dance steps” for dealing with conflict.  Here I introduce the first of four common “steps” – Being Passive.

Robbie’s father had never approved of his fiancée Nina (names changed), 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.

Consider these questions: do you prefer to be passive when dealing with difficult situations?  If so, 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.

Being passive let’s you escape pain – it never resolves the cause of the pain!