Wedding planning can be the first major challenge a couple can encounter. Often considered as emblematic of the character and culture of the extended family, its regalia can become a forum for various expression of family identity. This is especially present in bi-cultural couples including those representing distinctive ethnic or religious difference. For example, who officiates the ceremony, the location of the ceremony, composition of the wedding party, the bride’s dress, the food served at the reception, the guest list, table seating, and of course, the funding of the wedding itself can be the source of contention between families. How does the two career couple share wedding expenses, for example, in light of the traditional custom for the bride’s family to sponsor most of the cost. How do newer more equal methods of funding the wedding affect the parents of the couple as they confront more diverse definitions of gender roles which may forecast the general distinctive lifestyle of their children. This could ultimately represent future child rearing and roles of grandparenting that conflict with their children’s perspective on parenting.

Wedding hot spots come in all shape ,sizes and intensity. For example, an Indo-American father of limited means feels hurt and diminished when his daughter and fiancée, both surgeons, would not accept the full dowry and wedding cost he has been saving since his daughter was born. Conservative Jewish parents who are both survivors of the Holocaust struggle with accepting a priest co-officiating their daughter’s wedding. A Christian fundamentalist mother proclaims that her son marrying an atheist is embarrassing and because of the shame involved cannot invite her family to the wedding. A father, after years of condemnation of his daughter, threatens his son that if he invites his sister to his wedding, will not only boycott the wedding, but cut him off from mutual business dealings. Siblings of a bride pressure her to be the Maid of Honor and place her in a no win situation. A groom whose parents are divorced is subject to a barrage of narratives of old wounds from both parents as he prepares the table seating resurrecting residual feelings of responsibility over their break-up. Wealthy parents from coal mining backgrounds will not invite any relatives to their daughter’s wedding because they feel humiliated about the lack of education and working class sensibility of her fiance’s family. A gay couple, to no avail, tries incessantly to have family involvement in their upcoming wedding. They reply ”we love and accept you but do not want to be involved in a public display.”

Weddings are a microcasm of culture, class, maps of gender roles and often a desire to master intergenerational trauma representing political and religious oppression. They can impose intense pressure for the couple as loyalties can become divided and legacies broken. A couple needs to communicate their various reactions to each other, including hurt and confusion concerning possible blurring of boundaries between their needs and surrounding families. A strong stance should be developed between the couple integrating what is important to them as they plan their wedding and life together. What they would like and not like about integrating their cultural backgrounds and family agendas, often unconscious, is crucial. Exploring these agendas as they affect agreements about the spirit and details of the wedding through negotiating skills can be a first step in consolidating the couple’s identity as they shape their needs, desires, values and future ways of relating to their families as a couple. After all, the wedding, first and foremost, is ideally a celebration of found love between two people to be enjoyed and remembered as precious and foundational. Its’ designer needs to be the couple with input as they so choose, often requiring limit setting in a loving but firm way. Sometimes, this assertion is a first, offering growth in individuation and delineation for both partners and the couple, not an easy process but a potential precedent and milestone.

Ellyn Friedman PsyD, LCSW

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