Wedding planning can be stressful, but it's also supposed to be fun. I tell all of my clients that if they aren't having fun, we're doing something wrong. The only time that doesn't apply is when we're dealing with budget problems. I'm a wedding planner, not a magician. The vast majority of the time, I have a blast planning weddings with my clients. And my clients have fun with me. I tell them from the beginning that I reserve the right to make fun of them for ridiculous ideas -- but I'll tease them about it to their faces!
Unfortunately, wedding planning is a horrible, awful, miserable experience for some brides and grooms. Well, to be honest, mostly for some brides. The grooms suffer when their fiancés are upset because they hear about everything they're unhappy about. And suddenly it snowballs and the bride is in a total meltdown.
Fortunately, I don't actually experience this too often because the whole point of hiring a wedding planner is to avoid that sort of situation. I'm a wedding planner, not a therapist. But I get a LOT of emails and calls from brides "on the ledge" who are planning their own weddings and freaking out.
The pressure is too much. There's too much to do. The people who said they would help aren't helping. The vendors aren't responding fast enough. She can't afford the flowers she wants. Her bridal shop is fining all the girls because one showed up for measurements late. I could literally go on and on and on about the woeful tales I hear from tearful, angry and frustrated brides who are not my clients.
A lot of what I'm hearing from these girls is that they have bitten off more than they can chew, for various reasons. Some of them counted on friends, and occasionally they've hired a not-too-fabulous wedding planner or relied solely on the services of the banquet manager at their venue, and by the time they call me for guidance, they're in an all-out panic.
One of the things I do is provide consulting services for do-it-yourself brides, holding their hands via telephone and email, coordinating with their vendors as needed and generally giving them a blueprint for a stress-free wedding day. But I've been fortunate, for the most part, because most DIY clients hire me from the beginning so I can set them on the right path from the get-go. Even if they're frustrated when we start, they're usually laughing with me and ready to tackle it all again by the end of our first conference call.
For some brides, even having a wedding planner or getting the plans back on track isn't enough. They just can't handle the whole prospect of their upcoming wedding. It probably isn't cold feet -- although some people may classify their behavior as such -- it's more like a total wedding nervous breakdown. Some are manically obsessed with every minute detail, and some just don't care about any of it anymore and are ready to hop a plane to Vegas and elope.
Fortunately, for these frantic and despondent brides who are having a bad wedding planning experience, there is help. Seriously. In the past few years, a new niche has popped up in the vast wedding planning industry -- the birth of "bridal coaches."
The definition of bridal coaching varies from vendor to vendor -- some are actual therapists and some are just wedding industry experts with experience in helping distraught brides find their footing. But it's an industry that's growing worldwide. The concept is therapeutic counseling for brides who are having trouble with the emotional side of the engagement.
Michal Kaplan, based in Richmond, Virginia, was a social worker for years before she began her business Bridal Balance, coaching brides all over the United States through their wedding's emotional upheavals. She says her typical clients are undergoing stress that's related to family pressures, relationship hiccups or other drama or personal issues like high anxiety about their upcoming wedding or life transition and other feelings of overwhelm.
In short -- it has nothing to do with the actual wedding planning. It's about what's going on in their lives at the same time.
"Many of the brides are not using wedding planners. Planners who refer brides say they don't have time to be 'playing therapist,' and would rather plan the wedding instead of dealing with all the emotional stuff that goes along with it," Kaplan explains.
That makes perfect sense because wedding planners are really most concerned about your guest count, deposits, décor details and schedule not the fact that you hate your future in-laws or you BFF just broke your heart and isn't going to be in your wedding. We hear about all of these trials and tribulations through the time we spend together planning, but we're not the ones you should be sitting on the phone with looking for relationship advice. We don't have time and it's not what you pay us to do. If you don't have a good friend willing to play sounding board, perhaps seeking out some professional "coaching" isn't such a terrible idea.
The truth is that most of us will seek out professional counseling or therapy at some point in our lives, whether we're dealing with grief, marital issues, financial problems or something else. Why wouldn't a bride-in-distress get counseling for whatever's got her so worked up during her engagement period? Sounds like a great idea to me. Then again, I'm just a wedding planner suffering from a little bit of compassion fatigue so you can't blame me for wanting to pass a bride devastated by her deceased father's absence off to somebody who is professionally trained to deal with that sort of thing. It's not my area of expertise, and I don't want to give the wrong advice or answers to my client. Don't get me wrong -- I care. But professionally, that's not my department.
Michele Paradise is known as "The Bridal Coach" in the United Kingdom. She's got a successful practice as a therapist and hypnotherapist, and after years being a model and then teaching models, actors and business leaders how to conduct themselves in a variety of areas, she turned her focus to brides. Her approach is different than many others because she also uses her background in modeling to help build confidence for the big day.
She agrees with my assertion that money can be a major stressor to the bride during the planning process.
"Parents sometimes give the bride or groom money towards the wedding but no one wants to talk about what it means. Is it a gift? Is it a loan? Are there strings attached?" Paradise asks.
She's right, often the mother-of-the-groom fully-intended to have total planning control of the rehearsal dinner when she offered to pay for it. That probably isn't what the bride had in mind.
Frequently this isn't dealt with and down the line the parents want more control or the money becomes emotional and can become a major reason for arguments. Most people find this kind of thing hard to talk about but I have seen it break up families so I deal with this in a calm and clear manner and give them tips and techniques on how to deal with this issue and many more so that they have an enjoyable wedding planning period and fabulous wedding.
But really, at the end of the day, in all fairness, I have to ask a question. Did all of these newly-engaged women suddenly develop serious emotional issues because wedding planning stressed them out? Or were these all things they needed to deal with in therapy anyway? I believe that planning the biggest day of your life can bring out all sorts of emotions you've kept tucked away and hidden inside.
Family problems you can usually ignore become monstrous concerns that keep you up at night as you decide whether you HAVE to invite certain people. Friends you'd written off may reappear in your life when they hear you're getting married and suddenly you have to deal with whether to rebuild the relationship or cut the cord. And it may be easy to pretend you didn't lose a parent too young most of the time, but when you're figuring out who will walk you down the aisle on your wedding day, it all bubbles back up to the top. Sometimes it boils over.
Not every bride has a difficult emotional time during her wedding planning -- in fact, most don't. For the bulk of my clients, wedding planning is fun and they're milking every little bit of it while it lasts. Some of them suffer more after the wedding when a year's worth of effort is over in just a few days of celebration. Total "wedding crash."
The bridal coaching industry is growing and considered a legit "wedding vendor" now, so to speak. So obviously, their clients must feel it's helping or they wouldn't be getting glowing reviews and referrals. And there wouldn't be more bridal coaches putting up a shingle -- and there are.
I wish everyone a fabulous wedding planning experience and I hope none of my clients are suffering to the extent that they need to seek outside therapy. With that said, I'm glad there are professionals out there who are prepared to help them if they need it. My goal is to keep the actual wedding planning off the list of things that drive them onto the therapist's couch in the first place.