Relationships: I Love You. I Hate You.

How to make it to the altar without killing him

Paul, a Notre Dame grad, knew he wanted the priest from his alma mater to officiate at his wedding to his high-school sweetheart,

Paul, a Notre Dame grad, knew he wanted the priest from his alma mater to officiate at his wedding to his high-school sweetheart, Megan Battle. So shortly after his Thanksgiving proposal, Megan cleared September 9 with both men and booked the Church of Saint Margaret in Narberth. She was panicky, to say the least, when Paul announced a few weeks later that the 9th wouldn’t work after all, because it was also the date of an important Notre Dame home game. “It’s just typical,” says Megan, “that Notre Dame football somehow made an impact on our wedding day.”

She can joke about it now because it worked out fine. She called the church, and they still had September 23 open. Megan expects that the football fiasco will be the worst she’ll have to endure from Paul. Though it’s still a bit early in their planning process to know for sure, his level of involvement — or non-involvement — seems pretty standard. Right now she’s trying to get him to commit to a guest list, and he’s having trouble focusing on the task. And, we know — he’s hardly the first groom to have this problem.

We’ve all heard rumors about grooms who throw tantrums about table linens and corsages. New Hope author Leah Ingram, who’s written several wedding books including The Complete Guide for the Anxious Bride (Career Press, 2004), has come across a few. “You’ve got your metrosexual fiance who really cares about design or music,” she says, “and you’re thinking, what’s going on? Why does he care so much?”

But in general, Groomzilla seems about as common as Bigfoot. “It’s much more common to see the groom who just doesn’t want to play,” says Tracey Ellenbogen, a Bala Cynwyd psychotherapist who leads support groups for stressed-out brides. “Most grooms aren’t willing to climb onto the wedding-fantasy bandwagon. You can get them to come with, but you can’t get them to care.”

Groom-Managing Strategies
No one knows this better than Mark Kingsdorf, owner of the Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants in Philadelpia. As soon as Kingsdorf signs on with a couple, he sits them down for a reality check. First, he leads the bride-to-be toward acceptance that her partner may not share her zeal for coordinating linens with flowers.

“Brides, from the time they’re little girls, have a vision of their wedding that changes over time. They pick up things here or there from going to weddings, from being in weddings, and as a result of their changing tastes,” says Kingsdorf. “Guys think of it as, ‘I’m going to grow up; I’m going to get married; and I’m going to have to buy a ring and rent a tux. Period.’”

Even without the counsel of a savvy consultant, brides quickly discern what their grooms can handle. When Dotty Giordano Housel’s husband, Wynn, told her he wanted to be involved in their Center City wedding, she took him to Lory Cole stationers in South Jersey to pick out invitations. What she expected to be an hour-long process turned into a marathon day. “My mother and I lost my fiance when we began debating between linen or cotton, and ivory, ecru and every other shade of white from which there is to choose,” remembers Giordano Housel. After that day, she only asked Wynn on excursions she knew he’d enjoy, like cake-tasting, and registering at Williams-Sonoma, where he could zap items with a barcode-gun.

Because she knew he wanted to be involved, she also asked for his help with tasks that would play to his strengths. An investment banker, he’s always putting deals together over the phone. “He’s great at knowing immediately whether someone’s a good fit,” says Giordano Housel. So she gave him a list of potential photographers and bands to interview. After he’d narrowed down the contenders, she and her mother would go and interview them in person.

Leah Ingram espouses this groom-management strategy, but cautions brides — if they really want the help, they need to be willing to loosen their grip. “So much of the time,” Ingram says, “it turns out that you don’t have a slacker husband: You have an über-controlling bride who takes on everything and doesn’t know how to ask for help.” If you do give him ownership over an aspect of the wedding, she says, leave him alone while he’s working at it. Don’t micromanage and drive him crazy.

You Lost Me at “Catering”
Before delegating tasks, it makes sense to have a brainstorming session where each partner expresses their desires. Ellenbogen advises newly engaged couples to take fifteen minutes to separate and write descriptions of the wedding each envisions. Is it a destination wedding? A casual summer wedding in a parent’s backyard? How much religious ritual will the ceremony entail? Then, she says, come together and start talking through your commonalities and gaps. This could prevent misunderstandings down the line.

Then again, it might not.

Liesa Goins and her fiance, Doug, did what Ellenbogen suggests — they made several big decisions together early on while they were planning their New Year’s wedding at the Lambertville Inn in New Jersey. Among those decisions was the agreement that the reception would be buffet-style instead of a sit-down dinner. But later, when Liesa started talking about choosing a caterer, Doug flipped, told her she was changing everything and accused her of reneging on their earlier agreement. During a loud, tearful exchange in the car, it slowly dawned on her that he thought “catering” meant “sit-down dinner,” and the couple burst out laughing. “It was such a Three’s Company moment,” says Liesa. “There was this ridiculous misunderstanding that led to this huge blow-up.”

Little issues snowballing out of control are a symptom of wedding-planning anxiety. This is a time when enormous challenges that you’ve never faced before as a couple — including financial and family pressures and obligations — are rearing their ugly heads. And every little fault you notice about your partner is compounded by the reality that it’s forever — “I’m going to have to deal with his dirty socks on the floor … forever.” To avoid spontaneously combusting, Villanova-based relationship coach Lisa Kramer advises couples to take at least one night off a week from wedding talk. “Have a night when the wedding is off-limits,” she says, “when the goal is to be completely in the present.”

And instead of focusing on what your partner isn’t doing, focus on what he is doing. Megan was pleasantly surprised by Paul’s decisiveness when faced with a sea of flatware at the mall. Liesa saw a new side of laid-back Doug when he insisted on creating a minute-by-minute timeline to lead the wedding party through the entire day. And more than Wynn not weighing in on the reception’s design scheme, Dotty remembers his appreciation for what she accomplished on her own. “When we walked into the grand ballroom at the Union League, he really didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “He turned to me and said, ‘You and your mom did such an amazing job.’ That was really special.”