Keeping the Peace

How to plan a wedding without immediately wanting a divorce.




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photograph by Jim Graham



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The road to “I do” is paved with decisions: what venue to use, how many guests to invite, which flowers, which church, which photographer. Every wedding is as unique as the bride and groom. But that individuality can lead to disagreements about almost anything wedding-related: family participation and decision-making, the groom’s involvement, money, religion, ceremony and reception location, even what music to play.

But at the end of the wedding day, it’s how those disagreements are handled that is important.

Samantha Passarinho and her husband Miguel compromised when they disagreed about their Ocean City, Maryland wedding. She was like every bride—filled with excitement and hope that things would go as planned on the wedding day, July 22, 2006. After only hitting one snag during planning—how many people to invite and who—it did. To this day, it’s the one big battle the couple has suffered.

Originally, both wanted a smaller wedding—just family and close friends. But Miguel’s dad, who co-owns the family business, wanted to invite associates. Her list of possible attendees: 100. His: 300.

“I felt we were getting married so we should invite people who would be on both our lists,” she says. “He wanted to make his dad happy.”

And so they argued. “We had our five minutes of yelling and then it was over,” she says.

Eventually, they decided to solve the problem. “We said we’re not going to talk like this anymore. We can’t plan a wedding like this,” she says. “We kind of laughed about it. We’d be better off eloping. This was supposed to be fun.”

Part of the problem was solved when none of the venues they liked in Ocean City could accommodate 400 guests. The number of invitations had to be cut and that was difficult. They didn’t want to hurt any feelings. And because some of the budget came from their parents, the couple felt parental input was important.

“But it became ‘Is this our wedding or theirs?’” Samantha says. “We needed to do the wedding we want to do.”

So the couple sat down and figured out an exact budget, how much the couple would contribute versus how much their parents put in, and what three things were most important to spend that money on—food, music and photography. Anything else would be included if they could afford it, including extra guests.

It took a lot of retooling, but eventually everything was settled and the guest list numbered 235. Compromise complete and crisis averted.

Everything else the couple agreed on, in part because of Miguel’s philosophy and advice to grooms-to-be: “Say ‘Yes, dear, whatever you like.’”

His only request was to pick the food and entertainment. “Whatever else she wanted, she got,” he says. “We had a good wedding. She did a great job.”

The important thing is that Miguel and Samantha discussed the issue together and presented a united front to their parents regarding their involvement and demands. Psychologists say that couples need to do that. And the wedding planning is a great place to debut that togetherness.

Marilynn Denn, a psychologist practicing in Newark and Wilmington, says the wedding is the couple’s first presentation as a unit. “It can strengthen relationships. It’s the first major decision-making as a couple,” she says.

If you have a partner who’s not willing to compromise or who pays more attention to what their parents want, you may want to stop and think, she says. Afterall, marriage is about building a team of two whose members’ needs take priority over others.

During the planning, keep in mind that a wedding can bring couples closer and bond two families. The bride and groom should be courteous and try to include family members in the process or the event. But couples don’t need to sacrifice their preferences for requests from Mom and Dad.

As the bride and groom, you should discuss your needs and priorities freely. Present your feelings and listen to each other and ask for input. While it sounds simple, it can be a tough task. “It’s amazing how many people get defensive instead of really listening,” Marilynn says.

Don’t be afraid to compromise: If something is extremely important to your partner, consider giving it to them. And say, “I can give up this if you’re willing to give up that.”

If parents are trying to overtake the wedding, the couple needs to stand united. “People respect that. People are marrying off a son or daughter, but the kids are part of another unit now and parents should support that unit,” she says.

Jenny Morgan and Lance Haldeman listened and expressed their feelings during the wedding planning process. Because of that, they were united and enjoyed planning the details for their big day—May 19, 2007, in Lewes—together.

One of the main discussions they had was about budget, a topic which can cause arguments for many couples. But Jenny and Lance talked it over and checked the numbers again and again. Discussions got heated, but there was no fighting.

“And that’s mostly the way we’ve always been,” Lance says.

The couple compromised along the way. Lance wanted to get married near the ocean. Jenny didn’t want to be right on the beach. So they selected a yacht club on the bay. It fit both their needs. There’s water and scenery, but no sand whipping around.

Danielle Rykaczewski and Fiore Celano III are learning to compromise as they plan their June 16, 2007, wedding in Wilmington. They’ve had some arguments, mostly about his lack of participation. They’ve decided on specific responsibilities each had so no one got overwhelmed. Sometimes, however,  the list backfired and Danielle wound up doing things on Fiore’s list.

Other tiffs have come up about photography and the tuxedos.

Yet, they’re trying to compromise. “We sit down, turn the TV and phones off and talk it out till we are both happy. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, sometimes an hour. But regardless, we work it out,” she says.

Planning their wedding has added stress to their relationship, Danielle says, but they can communicate.

In the beginning of planning, it didn’t work that way. Fiore just was agreeing with everything Danielle wanted and keeping his feelings inside, the bride says. Fiore finally opened up and shared his wants and needs, too, and they’re both happier for it.

“It’s not just the bride’s day, which I feel a lot of brides forget,” Danielle says. “Guys do have particular things that they like, even when it seems they aren’t interested.”

And though some issues may seem superficial, they can be stressful, says Jay Ann Jemail, a psychologist in Centreville. “As with any negotiation, it is essential to start with clear and direct communication,” she says. “It’s not the place to resolve old issues and differences that have not been dealt with directly in the past.”

Brides and grooms should be sure not to team up with friends and relatives against one another. Planning should start with the couple, and advice is welcome from others. But decisions should be resolved between the two. If the couple can’t discuss things between themselves, then maybe they’re not ready to marry, Jemail says.

“Essentially, if the communication and purpose is kept clear and genuine, most other things will fall in place,” she says.

Samantha, the Ocean City bride, knows that to be true. During planning her emotions ran raw in the pursuit of the perfect wedding. But a couple of days before the ceremony she calmed down.

“I just knew no matter what happened, we’d be married at the end of the day,” she says.

And after all the planning, discussing and compromising, that’s what matters most.


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