Most therapists are trained that they should not give advice. Instead, the goal is to help clients come to their own conclusions about how to have happier, healthier lives. For the most part, I follow this principle. However, when it comes to working with engaged couples, I do give one piece of direct, firm advice: Spend your wedding together!
I know this sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many unhappily married couples will report that, during their wedding celebration, they did not spend much time together.
One newly divorced woman remembers:
I spent most of the evening asking guests if they had seen my husband. Where was he? It varied, he was outside smoking or at the bar with his college buddies. But we surely were not together.
Similarly, a divorced and newly engaged client explains:
Maybe it's superstitious, but this time I want to make sure we hold hands with each other as much as possible during the reception. I remember that during my first wedding, different guests kept coming up and talking to us, probably with the best of intentions, but it was as if we spent the whole time having separate conversations. Our marriage was similar. We lived separate, parallel lives. I know it is just one day, but if we spend it together maybe that will be a good omen for our future.
On a psychological level, engagements are -- paradoxically -- at least in part about separation from your past lives. They are about making each other the most important person in your life. Sometimes, without realizing it, people closest to the engaged couple have some degree of resistance to this process. Marriage is a significant change, not just for the couple but for their families, and it can take some getting used to. Planning a wedding helps families and friends adjust to this change and prepare for a couple's new level of commitment to each other.
During a wedding, excited friends and family will (often without realizing it) vie for the attention of the bride or the groom. With so many guests focused on two people, a couple can easily spend a great deal of their wedding reception on opposite sides of the dance floor.
As a therapist, I am all for independence and making sure that, even if you are a part of a couple, you can stand on your own two feet. In order to become a healthy "we" you must be able to exist as a healthy "I." However, weddings are intended to celebrate a couple and their union. On this special day, it bodes well for a couple's future if they can make a plan, ahead of time, to hold hands and stick together. Obviously, there is so much more to a happy marriage than spending time together at your wedding. However, metaphorically speaking, couples who are able to prioritize spending time with each other on a day filled with so many potential distractions are setting a healthy precedent for their future.
If a good friend asks for a moment with the bride or the groom, grant them your attention, but hold hands with your spouse and remain together. If a bride and groom separate during the party, even briefly, it may be more difficult than one would expect to break away from subsequent conversations and find each other again.
Remember, your friends and family come to weddings to wish a couple well in their lives together. If they do not get tons of quality time with you on this special day (or any time for that matter) they will surely understand!
Follow Elisabeth Joy LaMotte, LICSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elisjoy