couples

Bride-to-be PSA: Plan your marriage, not your wedding.

Call me jaded, call me married-for-too-long, but I look at engaged couples, bright, shiny and new and watch on, incredulously. They float around planning their “special day”, spending tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours on the perfect wedding, as though that will protect them from their fair share of relationship issues that those of us who’ve been married for several years know are inevitable.

Spared from the fantasy of the perfect wedding myself – in part due to the fact it was my husband’s second wedding and he was reluctant to make it into such a huge production – I wanted a small, simple, affordable wedding that didn’t take on more importance than the marriage myself. There was just one problem. My parents.

I knew they’d never let me get way with having a small-ish wedding so my fiance and I conspired together to ensure we achieved the budget wedding of our dreams. I was the one who came up with an idea so evil, so genius, so guaranteed to work that I impressed myself and even scared myself a little.

And left my future husband feeling slightly disturbed by my manipulative genius, I’m sure.

Mamamia Confessions: My biggest wedding regret. Article continues after this video.

I concluded that if we were to fall pregnant first, my conservative Italian parents would be so desperate for us to marry that they’d go along with whatever wedding we slapped together. And they pretty much did, except for my mum who bought a veil and practically chased me down the make-shift isle and shoved it into my hair and even made me a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses which she handed to me to use for the day, even though I had no plans to have a bouquet because the smell of flowers, Rexona Sport and frying onions left my pregnant-self feeling incredibly ill.

Shotgun wedding, done, and on budget. I fessed up to them a few years later.

Australian couples spend an average of $36,000 on their wedding day and 21 months planning it, according to the Easy Wedding Annual Wedding Survey 2015. Not one cent of this is spent on counselling sessions aimed and ensuring marital happiness. Compulsory pre-marriage counselling that used to be run by religious organisation is no longer compulsory. By the time most couples run into trouble in their relationships and seek couple’s counselling, the relationship is beyond repair which gives couple’s counselling a bad rap because we all know a couple or two who sought marriage counselling only to end up splitting, leaving us believing that couple’s counselling doesn’t work.

The fact is that it does, if it is used before the trouble really takes hold.

'Pre-wedding counselling is only useful if there are issues, but don't leave it too late either.' Image: Runaway Bride, Buena Vista International
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Pre-marital counselling is around, says Clinical Psychologist Lissa Johnson from Lissa Johnson & Associates, however couples normally don't come to see her until temperature in the relationship has reached boiling point, and not in a good way.

"That is the most common pattern actually, that people come to get help when they're feeling the relationship's at breaking point and it's do or die, which is a shame because there's an awful lot you can do that's preventative and plants a seed for a healthy relationship."

Johnson says couples are consumed by preparing for their wedding day because we've been sold a fairytale from the time we're little kids. "It's that sort of prince-princess magical day, so it just gets in subconsciously."

"You have this fabulous day and it's going to be 'happily ever after' and everyone knows consciously that's not how life works but what most people don't realise is that we are actually driven by stuff going on in our subconscious radar. We're a lot less rational than we think we are."

Ain't that the truth. I really want to stitch that into a pillow and give it to every bride-to-be I know.

We're a lot less rational than we think we are...so get pre-marital counselling. Love Jo.

"It's just deeply, culturally ingrained, the fact that love will conquer all," Johnson explains. "It's just a matter of finding your perfect match and everything else will take care of itself."

Most couples leave counselling until it's too late, after being married for 10 years or more. Image: Unfaithful, 20th Century Fox
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Dan Auerbach, Relationship Counsellor at Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors, says it's also biological. "When couples come to the decision to marry they're usually in the phase of limerence (infatuated love) sort of enchanted love phase which is really important as to bond people as to attach them closely and during that time, interpersonally, hormonally, we're just geared towards really admiring each other, having big hopes for each other, looking for the best in each other and looking for all their hopes and dreams and representing them in each other."

"Any what we've hoped and dreamed for, we sort of imagine to happen in the other and with the other and so we create this really deep bond which is really, really healthy and important but it means that sometimes we don't attend too well to what it's going to look like in ten years time. That's just something you can't imagine at that early stage."

"And then there's a lot of pressure and stress in making that day as special as the relationship feels...trying to get this one day to capture all of the meaning that we hold for the relationship and that's a huge stress and people start to become anxious and worried that is has to be perfect, that it really represents that relationship as perfectly as possible and let everyone else know how perfectly we feel the relationship's going."

So there is psychology behind the evolution of the Bridezilla. Who knew?

Johnson says, "The real ingredient of a healthy, happy, fulfilling, long-term relationship that lasts through the years is the ability to navigate those problems and turn them into opportunities for closeness and greater ability to understand yourself and each other and be sensitive and kind."

"It's really a shame that people have that upside down thinking, that problems mean something's wrong and they sweep it under the carpet when the fact is problems are opportunities to get closer to each other and strengthen the relationship."

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Another one for the pillow set.

Problems are opportunities to get closer to each other and strengthen the relationship. Love Jo.

Author Nikki Gemmell says she's too tired to care if her husband cheats on her. Article continues after this podcast clip.

Johnson says it's about finding someone qualified to help your relationship and who can teach you to relate to each other in a healthy, constructive way and not leave it too late to get help.

"It's about making your relationship a safe place in which you can be vulnerable and be able to say how you feel and not attacking. Be sensitive to your partner's feelings and take it into account. Be willing to listen to your partner; a collaborative team attitude."

She says it's about sharing your hopes and dreams and recognising where it is the same and where it is different as well as allowing each other to evolve and change and grow.

"The other ingredients for successful long-term relationships are a sense of evolving, helping each other to evolve and change and grow and understanding that. I think often people think - which fits into this magical wedding idea - that a good relationship is a happy relationship that should make you feel good, but in the long term most relationships have periods where it doesn't feel good and there's growth and development and in the long run if that happens in a constructive way it contributes to people's sense of satisfaction."

Auerbach says pre-marriage counselling would be "the perfect pre-wedding gift", although I don't know anyone brave enough to actually gift a couple that, but he also says it is only useful if the couple is experiencing some issues and are ready to confront them.

"Often couples in that limerence phase, they're just focused on trying to make this event perfect, and getting their life moving...at that early stage even if they were to have marriage counselling, unless there are issues in the relationship they may not be in a place to start wanting to look at them."

"In a lot of the young couples the issues are there and they're not confronting them. As I think about it, those who do come before marriage often do start to say, 'Hey, look, there are some issues we haven't talked about', and they do take that opportunity."

The next phrase for the pillow set might be...

If there's an itch in your relationship, scratch it before it becomes so big that scratching it won't fix it.

Pillow set, done.

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