Parts of Shira Notrika’s wedding planning were fun. And parts definitely were not.
Ms. Notrika, 30, who lives in London and is qualifying to be a lawyer there, was married Oct 27. She was happy with her wedding location, an underground ballroom that used to be an 18th century vault. She also thought it was fun to be close to the Tower of London.
But the process took an emotional toll. She has a sister who bickered with her every step of the way. Ms. Notrika also has multiple sclerosis so drama can and often leads to physical strain. There were nights she was so upset, she couldn’t sleep.
“Planning the wedding has been a breeze, but I wasn’t anticipating the stress around dealing with other people,” she said. “I was regretting having a wedding at all and regretting not just eloping.”
One day in March, during a particularly troublesome period, an advertisement popped up in her Facebook newsfeed for AisleTalk, a counseling service for people planning weddings.
It was started by Landis Bejar, whom she knew in high school from Miami and who is a licensed therapist now based in Manhattan. For the next few months they held six Skype calls where she picked up tricks to face the family turmoil without getting so upset.
“I can’t predict what my sister is going to do, but I can anticipate it,” she said. “So Landis and I broke down her behaviors that triggered me, and then she taught me how to not engage with them.” During the rest of the wedding planning process, she employed these techniques. The result was that the next few months leading up to her wedding along with the big day were less tumultuous.
Couples and their families are turning to therapists who specialize in helping them navigate wedding planning. Some clients need help with a narrow issue and are helped after one meeting. Others are searching for broader emotional support. For many, seeing a therapist during their wedding planning becomes a practice they continue after the big day. After all, navigating stress and family doesn’t end after a wedding.
The reality for many couples is that wedding planning is a tricky time. Deep-rooted family problems sometimes rear up. Some families face financial strain or must deal with contrasting values of how money should be spent. It’s also a time when couples and their families are going through big, fragile transitions.
“The idea that this has to be the happiest, most blissful time in your life, that is clever advertising,” said Jocelyn Charnas, a Manhattan psychologist who offers services to brides and grooms.
Many of the problems brides and grooms face are deep-seated, involving family dynamics that have been embedded for a very long time. They can flare up during the wedding planning process.
“These problems aren’t as simple as bridal magazines make them out to be,” Ms. Bejar said. “There aren’t seven simple things you can do to reduce this kind of stress.”
Ms. Bejar founded AisleTalk in January 2018 (she had already been practicing as a therapist for four years) after witnessing her sister-in-law and mother-in-law fighting in a dressing room over the fit of the former’s wedding dress. “I intervened and smoothed things over, and my mother-in-law joked that I should be a bridal therapist,” she recalled. “I laughed, but then I started thinking about it. All the stress my clients and friends had planning their weddings, why doesn’t that exist?”
She now offers services for individuals, couples or their families.
Allison Moir-Smith, a psychotherapist in the greater Boston area, has run a practice she calls Emotionally Engaged, that focuses on clients planning weddings, since 2002. But in the past year she has expanded it to better suit a range of clients’ needs. This month she started a service for parents of brides and grooms. “There is so much pain parents feel,” she said. “Last year I worked with someone whose mother got horribly depressed during her engagement because she was grieving the loss of her daughter.”
She is also working with more grooms. “This year I’ve had four grooms, and that is a lot for me,” she said. “It’s a growing part of my business.”
Ms. Charnas, whom New York Magazine dubbed “the Wedding Doctor,” has a range of clients including couples, families, and brides and grooms. One of the issues she is helping brides and grooms contend with is social media.
“I see the pressure it puts on people,” she said. “It exacerbates the expectations on the couple, the expectations of looking a certain way, of having the same wedding Meghan Markle had.”
The costs for wedding therapy vary. Ms. Landis’ fee varies depending on the type of service and goal of the clients, but she said her median session fee is around $150. Ms. Moir-Smith also charges around $150.
Ms. Bejar reminds potential clients that wedding therapy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. She has some clients who feel better after one or two sessions.
“It can be as simple as, ‘I can’t make a decision about who to have as my bridesmaid,’ or, ‘I don’t know how to have a conversation with someone about not picking them as my bridesmaid,’” she said. “I want people to know it can be short term. There can be a stigma of therapy, of not wanting to commit to it for a long time.”
Ms. Moir Smith agreed: “What I generally do is say, ‘Let’s work together for three sessions and turn this ship around.’ Some people just need the insight, the context that it is normal to not be totally happy during this time.”
Kimberly Perry, a 28-year-old senior account manager who lives in Brooklyn, got married at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on June 16, 2018. She and her mother had tension before the wedding because her mother lived across the country and it was difficult to feel connected during wedding planning. She turned to AisleTalk about four months before her wedding and was shocked that one meeting, where both of them were present, did the job.
“That one session helped build trust,” she said. “It made it so we could enjoy the planning together and not be stressed about it.”
While clients don’t have to commit to a long-term relationship about a quarter of the people Ms. Bejar sees continue therapy after their wedding.
Ms. Notrika said she started seeing a therapist in London. “Even though what I have been doing with Landis has been managing the relationship and stress regarding the wedding, it made me realize this is a deeper issue,” she said.
Often wedding woes relate to a family member or friend, and it isn’t always possible to bring them into therapy.
“I’m lucky my tension was with my mom, and we were both open to seeing a therapist,” Ms. Perry said. “But if the dynamic is with your future in-laws, maybe they wouldn’t be as open to seeking help. I know plenty of couples where they couldn’t have an open conversation with their future mother-in-law.”
But she also said she understands the process is more about getting to know yourself and handle forces out of your control.
“I think a lot of people planning their wedding are like, ‘It’s fine, I’ll deal with it,” she said. “But they don’t know that instead of going through the stress, they can get rid of it.”
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