To prepare for this trilogy of blogs about wedding disappointment, I went online and looked for real stories (from real newlyweds, mostly brides) who had weddings that didn’t meet their expectations.
Truthfully, it hurt to read these stories. Mainly because the stories themselves were just awful… relationship problems, terrible parents or relatives, bad vendors, internal conflict, or random circumstances took what was supposed to be a celebration and turned it into a painful memory for the couple. But that wasn’t all: Reading people’s responses to the stories hurt. The amount of dismissiveness and invalidation in people’s words was astounding. I’ll give you one guess what the most common response was.
“What matters is that you married the love of your life.”
On the surface, that response is fine, right? Look on the bright side. You got married, nothing else about the day matters.
Your feelings don’t matter.
The thing with weddings is, we paint them in a very specific way. Your wedding is supposed to be “one of the happiest days of your life”. That’s how it’s marketed. That’s how the Wedding Industry sells you a bunch of expensive stuff that you wouldn’t really want if you had the time to think about it and the pressure was taken off of you. We put so much pressure on people (ESPECIALLY brides) to have the perfect wedding, that makes them perfectly happy. And when their wedding DOESN’T make them happy, we punish them for it. We refuse to acknowledge their truth and choose to honour the marketing, instead.
Oh, you’re disappointed with how your wedding turned out? That doesn’t matter. The fact that you HAD a wedding at all is what matters.
How messed up is that?!?
Look, I get it. Confronting someone else’s pain or discomfort is in itself an uncomfortable thing. We don’t like seeing the people we love suffering, in any degree. So as a result, we often respond selfishly. We might not realize that we respond selfishly, but we do. We place our comfort above theirs. Instead of responding with “your feelings are uncomfortable for you, what can I do about them?”, we respond with “your feelings are uncomfortable for me, what can I do about them?”
Instead of responding with sympathy or empathy, we can respond with devaluing their emotions or derailing the conversation. Sometimes, this can be very overt. Other times, it can be very insidious… this is generally where Toxic Positivity lives.
If someone you love has had a really negative experience with their wedding and you want to be a source of support and comfort for them, here are a few tips to help you do so effectively, without resorting to the harmful responses they’ll likely be hearing from others.
Don’t say “What matters is that you married the love of your life”. While well-intentioned, this is incredibly invalidating. Your loved one probably had a vision for what they wanted for their wedding. They likely put a lot of time, thought, and effort into this event. This wedding was really important to them, and experiencing disappointment in something so important is extremely difficult. They may even be experiencing guilt, because they don’t feel like they should feel disappointed.
When you say, “What’s important is…”, you’re not telling them what’s important. You’re telling them what isn’t important- their feelings. You are taking what they’re sharing with you, and telling them “that is not important; THIS, on the other hand, is.” What you’re doing is derailing the conversation from something that makes you uncomfortable (their negative emotions) to something that would make you comfortable (a positive emotion). This answer, in effect, just tells your loved one “don’t be sad.” But they are. And you need to embrace that.
Don’t say “It’s just one day.” Again, this is really invalidating. The wedding industry, social media, family, friends… Essentially everyone tells us that a wedding is a huge deal. At least, they do until someone has a bad wedding. Then the whole experience wasn’t as advertised. And what’s the best defence when that happens? Gaslighting. “It’s just one day, why are you so upset?”
I know. It sounds like a radical conspiracy theory.
But think about it.
People spend a lot of money on weddings. They spend a lot of energy on weddings. The whole ritual of a wedding is often extremely emotional for both the newlyweds and their loved ones. And when the wedding is a positive experience, we can get behind that one hundred percent. But when the wedding wasn’t a positive experience? We renege on that entire viewpoint and devalue it. “It’s just one day. It’s inconsequential. It doesn’t matter.”
Don’t be part of the problem.
Don’t say “But.” NO BUTS. NONE. I forbid the whole word.
Emotions are not right or wrong. They just are. They are valid purely because they exist. When we say “but”, we are instantly countering what the other person is telling us. And that’s great- if you’re having a debate. But your loved one isn’t having a debate with you. They’re confiding in you. This is not the time to be combative or argumentative. This is the time to be open-minded and compassionate. If you are not in a place to be able to do that for your loved one, then you need to respect their needs (and your boundaries) by telling them that.
Don’t say “How can you say that after-?” After I paid for your wedding. After I spent so much time planning this for you. After I gave you so much support during the planning process. After I TOLD you that XYZ would happen.
This is not about you. There are a lot of reasons why you may be taking someone else’s disappointment personally- it’s difficult not to, when you invest a lot in their happiness. But by responding like this, you are centering yourself on a conversation that should be about them. Nobody wants to feel awful about their wedding… and when you reply with something like this, you’re making your loved one feel awful about telling you. They probably already feel guilty about being disappointed in the first place. Not only are you reinforcing that guilt, you’re making them feel guilty about talking about it.
Their feelings don’t go away when you respond like this. They’ll still be there… they just won’t feel safe sharing them with you in the future.
Do say “I’m so sorry you feel like this.” To be able to support a loved one, we need to acknowledge that they are hurting. There is no other way. We can’t ignore or dismiss their feelings. We can’t try to paint their negative feelings as positive ones, instead. We can’t devalue their feelings, or pretend they have a smaller impact than they actually do. To properly care for someone, we need to be okay with being uncomfortable. We need to be okay with them feeling bad, even if we don’t understand why. We can’t hold space for our loved ones to feel better, without first holding space for them to feel awful.
Do say “It’s okay to feel disappointed.” This is exactly how you deal with any feelings of guilt. You validate their emotions. You acknowledge that they feel disappointed for a reason, and it’s perfectly acceptable to have the reaction they’re having. These feelings are normal.
When you say this to a loved one, you’re telling them “it’s okay to be sad around me. You can talk to me. I won’t look away when you’re hurting.”
Do say “It’s not your fault”. There are a lot of ways that weddings can go wrong. Newlyweds will often blame themselves… I didn’t plan enough. I shouldn’t have done this. I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t spend enough money. I should have seen this coming. But the truth is, everyone is just doing their best. And by definition, you can’t do better than your best. You can’t know everything or predict everything or be objective 100% of the time.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, bad things still happen. That’s just life. And maybe your loved one needs a reminder of that. It might not fix anything, but it’s still very a very comforting and healing thing to hear.
Do ask “What do you need?” Everyone needs support in different ways. Some people like to talk for hours, and others just like to sit in silence. Some like to deal with their emotions head on, and others like to be distracted for a while. Some need help with getting tasks done or taking care of themselves, while others just need space. A person may even need different things at different times. Asking your loved one what they need from you isn’t awkward- it’s compassionate.
Communication is so important. You may not even realize that you’ve been supporting a person the wrong way until you ask them how they want to be supported. This isn’t a bad thing- it’s a good thing! It means that you can learn how to be an even better friend for them moving forward.
Active Listening is one more really great way to be there for a loved one. Here are a few phrases you can pull from when you want to be there for someone:
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“A (fight/hurricane/death in the family/giant guest list/etc. wasn’t what you envisioned for your wedding, was it?”
“That must have felt…”
“Have you talked to So-&-So?/Did you tell them?/What did they say?”
“I understand./I get it.”
“That’s such a hard position to be in.”