Marriage and family therapist Yeshiva Davis has a made up word for that feeling you get when planning a wedding: “nercited.” It’s a combination of nervous and excited, and it’s a feeling that she says comes naturally when you’re embarking on something new and unknown, and you’re looking to the future. However, there is a difference between feeling “nercited” and totally stressed out.
Experts advise that when those feelings of stress and anxiety begin to disrupt your everyday life, that’s when you know it has gone from healthy butterflies to something damaging. Telltale signs that you’ve reached this point include sleeping poorly, fighting with your partner, having a short fuse, drinking or eating more, skin rashes, and feeling paralyzed to make any decisions. That’s not what you want when you’re about to host a wedding.
Darryl Moore of D’Concierge Weddings has been a full-time professional wedding planner for eight years—though he’s been planning since 2002 when his own mom got married. In the almost 20 years since he got into the wedding business, he says social media and the internet have changed the space. He calls it a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are tons of resources and helpful sites out there now for couples. But, on the other, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with social media and living up to the expectations you see on your Instagram feed, especially when you’re working within a budget. This is a top stressor for couples, he says.
Budget was a stressor when Sheana Tobey, a licensed clinical professional counselor, planned her wedding earlier this year, but she says COVID was the main challenge. “Our top most stressor was throwing a safe event, which for us, meant changing our wedding date three times and having three different plans for what the event would look like. It also meant decreasing our guest list. That was sad and challenging to do,” she shares.
Wedding planning can be inherently challenging and stressful, which can affect your relationship with your partner and family and friends. “I have worked with clients for premarital work and when wedding planning happens they come back,” shares Davis.
But, at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be a happy and fun time to celebrate the love you and your partner share. To help remember that while navigating the stress, wedding experts and therapists offer some words of advice.
Meet the Expert
Set a Realistic Budget
“All those things you see on Instagram—beautiful flowers on the ceiling and custom glassware—can cost thousands of dollars. You might think you can have that Kim K wedding look for $15,000, but you can’t,” says Moore.
Those harsh but true words are something he says he has to often tell his clients who come in with expectations they see online that far exceed their budget. The problem is not knowing how much things actually cost, he says. Fresh flowers, for example, can be a lot more money than people realize. That’s why he advises that the budget be the number one thing that is sorted out. “Sit down and understand what the aesthetic is and vision for your wedding and what’s a realistic budget. A planner can help you decide where you can cut if you need to,” he says.
Another big chunk of the budget might go to food. Kimberley Ashlee, owner and chef at Kimberley Ashlee Catering, creates custom, personal menus for weddings. Her clients tend to be couples who are prioritizing food at their event. “I hope that we’ve been a part of changing people’s minds that wedding food can be just as good as when you go to a fine dining restaurant,” she says. “But, in order to set those expectations—to get that level of sophistication—it requires more labor and that translates to higher cost per person.”
And, she says, price fluctuations throughout the pandemic have made budgeting for the menu even more challenging. She has seen clients who moved their wedding dates and now, because of inflation, their original menu is double the price. She says she has been able to work with clients to come up with solutions like substituting proteins and having a shorter cocktail hour so you don’t have to have as many hors d'oeuvres.
Setting the budget itself can be a challenge though as most couples, according to Davis, have a “spender” and an “underbuyer.” Deciding on and ranking priorities is the first step in deciding what your money will go towards.
Prioritize What’s Important to You
Experts agree that a good strategy when it comes to setting priorities is for each person in the couple to write down the things that are most important to them in the wedding process—flowers, food, wedding gown, photographer, venue etc. Any elements that don’t align will be areas where compromises and agreements will have to be reached. Moore advises couples give themselves nine months to a year for planning and start with the “big ticket items” first, which he says are venue, photographer, flowers, and menu. “Everything else will fall into place” after you’ve booked and set a dollar amount to those expensive items, he says.
“Don’t try and do the impossible; focus on things that are really important to you and partner—the must-haves,” adds Davis. “If the dress and food are most important, maybe you don’t have the hydrangeas. Don't sweat the small stuff.”
Moore also stresses that it’s important to spend your money on things that bring you joy rather than on things you think you “should” have. For example, one of his couples had apple pie at their wedding instead of cake because that’s the dessert they love. “Why spend money on something you don't enjoy? Create something that shows your individuality,” he advises. “When I got married it was all about how me and my husband would entertain at home—how we would have welcomed guests.”
Tobey agrees that a wedding should align with the couple's values and individuality. “A wedding or commitment ceremony can look all kinds of ways—give yourself space to make it your own where you can,” she says.
Don’t Strive For Perfection and Have a Plan B
They say nobody’s perfect, and the same goes for weddings. Experts agree that perfection is impossible to achieve. And, Davis says it’s also unnecessary. “Good enough is good enough,” she says. “Also, remember that guests aren’t paying nearly as much attention to the details as you are,” adds Tobey.
So, when planning your wedding, try and remember not to “sweat the small stuff,” as Davis says. One strategy for this, says Davis, is to always have a plan B so you have peace of mind if things don’t go as expected—or when they don’t go as expected. “Things will go wrong, that's just the nature of living and the nature of life,” says Davis.
Tobey encourages couples to be open and flexible to pivots, as she had to with her own wedding. “Take it all just a little less seriously,” she says. “It can be easy to get caught up in feeling as though we need to create the ‘perfect image; of a day or moment to post on social media. When in reality, a ‘perfect image’ I use that term loosely as there is no such thing as perfection—is one that reminds you of the way you felt on the day and the love and joy that was shared between you and the people you were with."
Simplify Your Menu
“You can’t please everyone and you’re not supposed to,” Davis reminds couples. Part of this means not worrying so much about everyone’s dietary preferences and needs. Ashlee recommends having a meat, fish, and vegan option to cover your bases, but outside of that she says to focus on what you like and what’s in your budget. For Moore’s wedding, he shares, “We had this amazing chicken dish in New Orleans and I was like ‘everyone in the world should try it,’ and I brought a chef in to make it. If you didn't like it, I don’t care.”
To minimize stress, Ashlee is seeing some couples serving a plate with multiple protein options at once, that way people can just eat what they want. She is also seeing a move towards protein and vegetables being the stars of the plates while starches have been minimized, usually to a puree style underneath the rest of the dish.
For those who want to be adventurous with their menu and offer unique dishes, Ashee says the cocktail hour is a great time to experiment a little since anyone who is a picky or less adventurous eater will still be able to enjoy dinner later. “I always tell clients if we really want to push the envelope, to do so with your hors d'oeuvres because that's a smaller commitment for your guests,” she says.
Take Social Media with a Grain of Salt
Moore says sites like Instagram and Pinterest are useful tools for inspiration, but they can be misleading. “They make it seem so easy and accessible like everyone can have that,” he says of some of the “perfect” images out there. Plus, he adds that paying too close attention to social media has resulted in “carbon copy” weddings.
“Living up to cultural, societal, beauty, and social media standards can be a major stressor. I encourage you to clarify your core values as separate from the values that have been passed down to you, from society or otherwise, that you no longer align with,” advises Tobey. In other words, try and let go of the pressures of social media. Your wedding is for you, your partner, and your loved ones. It’s not for your followers.
Handle Family in Stride
One of the biggest sources of stress during the wedding planning process is often the dynamic between the couple and family members. And, when family is paying for the wedding, it becomes just that much more complicated. Unwanted input and advice from in-laws and other loved ones can become an emotional burden on everyone involved for a number of reasons.
Moore says he has seen a lot of friends and family members who recently got married pushing what they did on the couple, and this can impede on the couple’s freedom to express their individuality through their event. “Don’t follow what Emily Post says or what your cousin did or your mom,” he advises.
Of course, that’s easier said than done when it comes to pushy family members who mean well. And, seeing family dynamics like this come into play can put stress on a couple, says Davis, as everyone has a unique relationship with their parents and other family members. “It may be hard for you to see your fiancé deal with a mom’s aggressive tone or boundaries getting out of control. Watching your partner deal with family is a stressor,” she says.
It’s important to respect that familial relationship while not getting steamrolled. This is one area where Wilson says a wedding planner can be helpful. He says he gets to know the parents and family members involved early on in the process so that he can act as a mediator and an advocate for the couple. His strategy is to first listen to and respect the family's opinion. And, if it just doesn't align with what the couple wants or what's realistic for the event, he explains that in a kind and positive phrase like: “That would be amazing if the situation were this way, but because it’s not, that option won’t work.”
Use the ‘Broken Record’ Technique
Wilson's strategy is one that Davis and Tobey agree with. They both tout the benefits of saying phrases like that as part of the “broken record” technique. The broken record technique is a method used in psychology that consists of stating an assertive statement over and over in different ways. Davis recommends preparing a kind and gentle statement that you can use for this, similar to what Wilson uses. “Wow that sounds really cool, but that's not in our budget. I’m so glad you shared, though,” she uses as an example.
Tobey also recommends this, and explains that it takes the burden off of feeling like you need to defend why you disagree with your family member each time. She also reminds couples that most likely, your family members—though they might be annoying—mean well when they give suggestions.
“Overall, work to stay calm and curious with your family members, friends, and partner. It’s likely that everyone wants the event to be a smooth and memorable one, and different people are going to have differing ideas about what that looks like and how to accomplish that,” she says.
However, if it gets to be too much, Davis says it’s okay to “lovingly disengage” from any person or situation causing you overwhelming stress at any given moment or even throughout the whole planning process. “Remember you have the right to disengage when things get out of control. You're not required to endure bad behavior just because you love them or they are members of the family,” she says.
Miscommunication can lead to disasters, so experts agree that being clear from the very beginning about expectations, budget, and style is very important in wedding planning. This includes everyone from family members to your planner and your partner. Both Davis and Tobey recommend actual written documents detailing things like who is paying for what, how much budget is allocated etc.
Davis recommends one email chain per group—be it with your wedding party, planning team, or parents. This way, all parties involved can reference that same chain. Tobey says a shared Google doc or spreadsheet can work too. While coordinating with different people can sound stressful, organized communication can actually really help alleviate that long to-do list and divvy up some of the work.
Being a partner with your soon-to-be spouse during the planning process can also be a great bonding experience. “Open and honest communication is going to be important, whether it’s for planning a wedding or any other aspect of a life-long partnership. When you think about it, the challenges you will face as a team during the planning of a wedding/commitment ceremony are a beautiful growth opportunity and good practice for what’s to come in your life-long partnership,” says Tobey.
Lean on a Planner You Trust
Wedding/events planners strongly advise their clients to rely on them and put some of the stress on a professional. Moore says the first step is to educate yourself on wedding “lingo” and decide if you want a planner and/or a wedding designer—and know what the difference is.
“A planner is a person who helps you find things and put things together to create that gumbo. A designer is going to take what's in your head and bring it to life — make it as posh, glam, or as country as you want,” he explains.
And, this may require some interviews and meetings with multiple professionals until you find someone you really trust. “When you first meet anyone, you're getting to know them and as such, couples tend to have to warm up to their planning team. Once they fully entrust them, however, many stressors and concerns dissipate as the planning team can best serve as their guide,” says wedding planner Roxanne Bellamy.
A planner is also someone you can talk to non-stop about the wedding, says Moore. While friends and family may get bored after a while, a professional is always there to lend an ear—it’s their job, after all. “There are some clients I talk to every day,” says Moore. “Find someone you can confide in when you have highs and lows.”
Plus, Moore says he believes all couples should have an element of surprise when it comes to the big day. “I have brides who want to see every piece of glassware ahead of time, and I show them. But, I also sneak in a surprise. If you know every detail, it takes away some of the excitement. The guests are surprised when they walk in—so should be the couple,” he suggests.
Of course, not everyone opts for a planner. For couples who plan themselves without a coordinator, Bellamy says an event management team is a good option for help throughout some of the process.
Take a Break
Moore advises his clients that if the planning becomes so overwhelming that it's no longer fun or it starts causing problems between you and your family or partner, take a two-week break. “Don’t talk about it. Don't think about it. And then slowly step back into it. It will consume you,” he says. Davis recommends massages, 30-minute walks in nature, and guided meditation as methods to help you “relax, refresh, reset.” And, Tobey, who also specializes in yoga, says deep breathing and an open posture can help too.
“A superhero pose is often recommended,” she explains. “Feet placed shoulder width apart, hands on hips, chest open and proud, and chin tilted up slightly.” This can help with anxiety and confidence, she says. Tobey also advises that getting enough sleep and enough food is also important for the mind. A lot of people go on diets before their wedding, but she says it’s important to make sure you get enough nutrients so that you feel good. And speaking of feeling good, she has a little tip for writing out your to-do lists: “I love the idea of adding encouraging statements, such as ‘you got this!,’ ‘Nice work!,’ etc. to your list to make it feel a little lighter.”
Remember Why You’re Getting Married
At the end of the day, the wedding is one day; a marriage is meant to be forever. So, remember not to neglect your relationship throughout the planning process. “Keep going on dates and don’t only talk about the wedding. Netflix and chill with wine,” says Davis. “You don't want the wedding to completely take over your life. Keep doing the things that helped you fall in love in the first place.”
“Ultimately, a wedding is a celebration of your love and your union. Try to keep that at the forefront of your mind if you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed during the planning process,” adds Bellamy.
And, above all else, have fun! A wedding is a happy time to let loose, dance, and celebrate your love with all the people that matter to you. “I say, you only get married—for the first time—once, so enjoy it!” says Wilson.