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Surviving Very Knotty Business of Tying the Knot


With the family politics, painstaking preparations and steep prices that confront most couples planning weddings today, it's a wonder that any bride and groom are still on speaking terms by the time they're called upon to say "I do."

The process of planning a wedding can be so rigorous that it's like going through a prenuptial boot camp for many couples: Those who make it to the altar are survivors who have been toughened up for whatever marital challenges lie ahead.

Although the engagement period is a time when couples expect love to be all-consuming, romance has a way of receding as their attention turns to such practical--and often sensitive--matters as which names should be cut from the oversize guest list, who should be included in the bridal party and which relatives should get VIP seats at the reception.

Technical quandaries are often accompanied by pre-wedding jitters, which can cause even the most committed couples to feel like their relationship is falling apart at the time when they most need to feel sure about it.

If you have always wanted a fairy-tale wedding, there may be only one way to make sure that your fantasy is intact when the big day arrives: Play Sleeping Beauty and have your prince awaken you with a kiss just in time for the ceremony.

That would have spared Sue Church a lot of aggravation during the last few weeks before her wedding three years ago. She was furious with her then-husband-to-be, Jeff, because he hadn't followed through on his promise to make arrangements for a honeymoon trip to Australia.

"It was really aggravating," she says, noting that Jeff seemed to become increasingly dysfunctional as the wedding date neared. "He was frozen. He couldn't make any decisions or go into action." Meanwhile, she was having "panic attacks" about the honeymoon, worrying that it wouldn't happen at all if Jeff didn't act quickly.

Finally, with two weeks to go, he made the reservations for Australia--and restored harmony with his bride-to-be. But it wasn't a lasting peace.

Soon after the honeymoon battle was resolved, Jeff's mother arrived from Florida. Sue was preoccupied with last-minute wedding preparations when she first met her future mother-in-law, and their relationship got off to a shaky start.

Sue made the mistake of sharing her initial impressions with a friend when she thought no one else could hear, but her less-than-flattering remarks were overheard by both Jeff and his mother. Result: a heated argument between the bridal pair on the night before their wedding.

Fortunately, they were able to clear the air so they could speak with conviction when they exchanged wedding vows the next day. And once the stress of the wedding was over, Sue and her mother-in-law became friends.


Christine Stieber, the Fullerton event planner who helped Sue and Jeff make their wedding arrangements, says couples shouldn't panic if they find themselves hating each other when they're about to make a lifetime commitment. During her classes on how to make a wedding affordable, she points out that prenuptial planning is always a challenge and often becomes the first real test of a couple's ability to communicate--and compromise.

There are so many decisions to be made, so many people to please and so many different expectations to consider that conflicts are inevitable--especially if the wedding is to be as elaborate as a David Wolper production. (The average amount spent on a wedding today is $15,000 nationwide, $20,000 in California, according to Stieber.)

Glenda Pfeiffer, an event planner in Costa Mesa, agrees that wedding-bound couples are almost certain to clash as they head to the altar. She says the blowups often relate to the efforts of grooms' mothers to elbow their way into the decision-making process. "They're in an awkward position. They want to help, but they don't know how."

Pfeiffer often serves as a sounding board for brides-to-be who are getting unwelcome advice from their future mother-in-law and are afraid to insist on doing things their own way. "I tell them to blame me for everything," she says.

Stieber says it's easier for couples to resist outside pressure when they have a clear picture of what they want. She advises her clients to make a list of what's most important to them, then discuss ways of compromising in the areas where they're not in sync.

It's important to consider the parents' wishes--especially if they are picking up the tab--but if this special occasion is to be remembered as it should be, the bridal couple's preferences must prevail, Stieber stresses.

Pfeiffer notes that conflicts may arise even when parents aren't in the picture because, with more couples planning and paying for their own weddings, grooms are showing greater interest in such details as the guest list, the choice of music and the menu. "Some have very specific ideas about what they want, and brides are taken aback by that," Pfeiffer says.

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