When I first met with Philip and Cora (names changed) they were five months away from their wedding. In their late twenties, they’d been together since college. Philip was quiet and had no opinions about the ceremony. His catch phrase was, “I don’t care.” At one point, Cora suddenly turned on him and in a hurt tone asked, “Why don’t you care? Why don’t you ever have an opinion on anything about our wedding?” The poor guy looked equally hurt, “This is your big day; whatever you want is fine with me,” he pleaded.
I gently pointed out that this was their big day. And then Philip said something that took both Cora and me by surprise. He explained, “When we got engaged my mother told me that this is your day and that I should go along with whatever you want and that I should stay out of the planning and not get in the way.”
Well, a whole new conversation opened up and by the end of it all they were a couple determined to go on and plan their big day together!
I try mightily to avoid stereotyping either people or situations. Yet, the truth is brides and grooms stereotypically approach a wedding from very different perspectives.
I’ve never met a groom who told me he’s been dreaming of this day since he played with his first G.I. Joe doll – and I seldom meet a bride who doesn’t show up for a meeting without a thick notebook!
It’s true that there are many aspects of wedding planning that a groom is not going to be excited about or interested in. Yet, I believe that your wedding is not some kind of themed party simply celebrating the whims of the bride.
With this is mind, here are four aspects of listening to keep in mind as you make your way through the wild and whacky world of wedding planning!
1. When your fiancée asks, “What do you think?” she really does want an answer! I’ve met with couples where the bride asks her groom “What do you think?” and shrugging his shoulders, grunts, “Whatever you want.” No bride is ever reassured with that answer.
Here’s the thing—I don’t think you can “not care” about your wedding and still care about your marriage. You may not have a strong opinion about flowers, you may feel overwhelmed with the politics of the seating chart, but to say you “don’t care,” well that’s something entirely different. If you don’t feel strongly about some aspect of the wedding, say something like, “I don’t have a preference, so I’m happy with what you decide.” Those words will have a positive impact, rather than tossing off an “I don’t care,” which can only hurt and confuse your fiancée.
2. The ceremony had ended and the wedding party was milling about hugging and congratulating the couple. Suddenly, I overheard the six year-old flower girl and her five year-old ring-bearer cousin. The girl said to the boy, “My shoes hurt.” Walking past her, and without stopping, he said, “Then take them off.” She looked utterly stunned but then yelled out, “Hey, get back here!”
Even at five years old, the boy took a classic guy approach. Got a problem? Here’s the solution, now let’s move on. Which is why guys have a rep for being lousy listeners!
If there’s a problem, stereotypically a man will want to come up with a solution. However, often times, while a woman wants a solution, she also enjoys talking about the problem, analyzing it, and getting different kinds of feedback. For a woman, talking about the problem can be as important as solving the problem.
Before interrupting with your solution, ask your partner if she wants your take on the problem. If she says “yes,” then offer your solution. And brides, remember that men, stereotypically, can be more definitive in what they say than women often are. So, if you ask your fiancé for an opinion, be prepared for an opinion that may not be sugarcoated!
3. I want to remind you that your fiancé can listen to you talk about the wedding for only so many hours in the day! Throughout your engagement, make sure that you and your fiancé consciously, deliberately talk about non-wedding related “stuff.” Even though you’re engaged, there really is still more to life than the wedding!
4. Women often times can be more indirect when asking for something. If you ask a guy, “Is it chilly in here?” he may not pick up on the fact that what you’re really doing is asking him to shut the window. If you need your partner to do something, ask! Don’t play games with your fiancé, especially if you haven’t given him the playbook.
And one last thing:
Let your partner know that you’ve heard them and are trying to understand their concerns and needs at that particular moment in the planning.
The most important part of listening is when you reassure the other person that you have heard what they said. Let your partner know exactly what it is you “understand,” so that if what you’re repeating back to them is not what they meant, they can clarify.
If you don’t understand what your partner is feeling or saying, ask them to explain a bit more. This will prove to them that you’re listening and that you do care about the conversation.