Monday, March 30, 2009
The family dynamics of wedding planning
Rob and Celia were on speakerphone
at Rob’s place, talking to Rob’s parents. Together they had just told them they were
engaged. The Bentons responded, as
expected, with surprise, happiness and congratulations. Rob’s youngest sister Maria, still in
high school, got on to squeal at them with excitement and make sure she would
be a bridesmaid.
“Of course. I mean, we haven’t discussed details,
but of course you’ll be one. No
pink, though,” Celia said.
“Lime green?” Maria asked.
“Put Mom back on,” Rob said. “You’ll be the first to know what color
the dresses will be.” He rolled
his eyes at Celia, who smiled, though she was thinking, yikes, I have a wedding
to plan. And pay for. Celia had no money, her mother had no
money, and Dad – well, Celia hadn’t talked to her father for months and hadn’t
seen him for three years. Asking
him to finance a wedding after blowing off his overtures toward her seemed rude
at best and at worst, hypocritical.
Rob had a good job, but he had school loans and a car note over and
above his living expenses. He
always seemed worried about money.
Then, even if she figured out the
who-pays part, would she have to invite her father? Would he expect to play father-of-the-bride? In fact, until Maria had mentioned it,
Celia had not thought about dresses, walking down aisles, or any of it. While
she knew from watching friends that couples seemed to enjoy being engaged and
planning weddings, suddenly Celia was overwhelmed. She wanted to snap her fingers and be married. Even the moving into Rob’s apartment
part. On some fantasy plane she
had believed that by getting engaged, she would be married, but it hadn’t hit her until Maria had asked about
Celia walked to the sofa and
plopped down, pulling her legs underneath Indian-style. She watched as Rob, genuinely happy as
he narrated the how of their engagement (eating fast food together as he
recovered from the flu), paced back and forth as he talked, laughing easily. Rob could be so relaxed with his
family, Celia thought. They really
like each other. The first time
Celia had met Rob’s family was at the wedding of one of his cousins, and it had
been a wonderful time, with everyone happy, engaged in the activities, and
freely expressing love and family togetherness. Celia had not attended that many weddings in her family, but
the few she had were marked by drama and drinking more than joy.
Rob was talking golf with his dad,
which Celia knew meant the conversation was almost over. How did I get someone so normal to fall
in love with me, she thought?
Rob disconnected the call and
walked toward the sofa, grinning.
“So, lavender or lime green, roses or daisies, chocolate or carrot
cake?” he said, sitting next to Celia and leaning in for a just-told-my-parents-we’re-engaged
smooch. Celia responded
accordingly, then pushed Rob back far enough that she could look him in the
“Rob, what do you think about
How does Rob respond?
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Wedding Planning Missteps (Joanne’s response)
This is the kind of miscommunication that could drive a newly engaged couple to run screaming from one another, permanently. It is also an issue I see frequently in couples I work with. Couples often want their therapist to be their omniscient judge, deciding who is right and wrong. This is a bad role to accept, since there is no way to know what really went wrong. All couples miscommunicate like this on occasion and that this happens in no way indicates that the couple is incompatible. As I've noted in previous comments, the couple's ability to repair following these incidents is what matters, not that they happen at all. Resilience in relationships is about reconnecting. I agree with Harold that both Rob and Celia need to laugh and MOVE ON.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Wedding Planning Missteps (Harold’s response)
One of the things that plagues marriages and intimate relationships is faulty memory. It sounds kind of funny. But, couples would tremendously benefit if we could realize that memory is very fragile. However, this is so contrary to our intuitive sense of things. We believe our memories are a 100% "memorex moment" playback of facts. This is totally inaccurate. In reality, memories are really reconstructions based on the sensory data that our brain processes from all of our senses at the time of memory encoding and influenced by other events that may cause decay of that memory. This is why a couple who experienced the "same" event can have different recollections of events.
As a consider Rob and Celia's latest episode, I immediately thought of how important it is for couples to take more flexible stances--especially concerning events that happened a while ago, events that are fraught with emotionality, or events that transpired in the midst of chaotic situations. During any of these situations our brain's capacity for exact recall is imperfect.
Yet, couples often damage the relationship by insisting that their respective memories are exact. For me, Rob and Celia have identified their different recall of the situation. Now, it is their responsibility as an engaged couple to forget who is exactly right and focus on their process of communicating their engagement to Rob's family.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Wedding Planning Missteps
Rob and Celia have been engaged
for several days but they have not yet discussed any wedding details. Rob
returned to work following his bout with the flu and played catch up; Celia’s
church choir directing became more hectic as Easter approached.
Rob carried a tray with fast-food
Mexican from the counter while Celia filled drinks from the soda machine. The restaurant was near Rob’s office
and he planned to return to work after this late lunch, which for Celia was an
early dinner. She was off to the
church for a worship committee meeting when they finished.
“We need to call my parents,” Rob
said, as they settled at a tall table.
“I’m starting to feel bad that they don’t know yet, when everyone who
can see you with a ring on your hand knows already.”
Celia paused as she unwrapped a
burrito. “You haven’t told them?”
“I was waiting until we could call
them together,” Rob said. He
was kind of excited about it, truth be told. His family liked Celia and had been disappointed, along with
Rob, when she declined his offer last fall. Since their engagement had been unexpected this time, he
anticipated their happy surprise.
“I didn’t know you were waiting
for me. I told Mom and Catherine
when I talked to them on Saturday,” Celia said, too casually for Rob’s
taste. She regarded her meal and
picked up her fork, apparently deciding against fingers.
“But you were supposed to wait for
me, so we could do it together!”
“I didn’t know that. We hadn’t discussed that.”
“Yes we did!”
Celia put down her fork and looked
at Rob like he had lost his mind.
Suddenly Rob was aware that this wasn’t a typical miscommunication. Celia really didn’t seem to have any
clue about this plan even though it was burned into his brain. She actually looked frightened.
“Okay. Something’s going on here,” Rob said. He put his hands on the table and took
a deep breath. “You really don’t
remember this.” Celia appeared to
relax a little, although she still watched him closely.
“Mom and Catherine are happy,” she
Rob began to fear that he and
Celia were embarking on planning the wedding from hell. If they couldn’t communicate accurately
about simple content like this, how would anything important ever happen?
What happened here?
Friday, March 20, 2009
Forever yours (Harold’s response)
Like Joanne, I too admire the evolution of Rob and Celia's relationship. It has shifted from a me-centered to a we-centered paradigm. A few months ago, we were wondering if this relationship was going to make it at all--mostly because neither of them seemed to get what was motivating the other. Over time, they each seem more sure and confident of who they are. As their individual boundaries and identity have solidified they can see each other--clearly. And, they like what they see.
I'm often in discussions with couples who have difficulty seeing each other clearly. Some of it is because of the busyness of life (which we talked about a couple of weeks ago). Sometimes, it is our own narcissism and self-centeredness (which we've talked about it previous episodes). And, some of it is just not getting the angle our partners are coming from. There are many reasons why intimate partners are sometimes more like "ships passing in the night." But, if you are truly going to be a partnership that lasts forever, you have to see each other--clearly. And, you have to value what you see. And, authentically valuing your partner is only possible when you value yourself.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Forever yours (Joanne’s comment)
Rob is settling into a real relationship with the woman he has. Last fall he was struggling to fit Celia into the box that was the woman he wanted, which she resisted, to her credit. I shudder to think of what this relationship would look like if Celia had agreed to marry Rob when she had doubts about herself and what she wanted of her own life. The choice to speak her truth initiated a painful time for them both and to Rob's credit, he hung in there with her. There is powerful symbolism in agreeing to get married while eating fast food and recovering from the flu. Sure, they'll have a nice wedding and it will be beautiful and romantic. But this moment is theirs, and it is a real moment, rooted in the real lives of the two who are committing themselves in it.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Celia stirred her strawberry
milkshake with her straw.
She was glad to be at Rob’s, even happier he was feeling better. The last few days, when he was sick
and she took care of him, had only confirmed her devotion to him and their
relationship. She glowed in part
ownership of his recovered health.
She listened from the living room
sofa as he fussed around in the bathroom, opening and closing cabinets and
drawers; running water. Rob was
sick enough that he had required her help since Saturday, but Celia appreciated
that he was taking the lead on caring for himself now that he was beginning to
feel better. That bode well for
their future together. She hoped
she could be a similar patient, able to receive care that was freely offered
when needed, but responsible enough to take over when possible. She realized, as Rob re-entered the
living room and walked towards her, that she felt admiration for him right
now. He seemed strong, and adult. Celia had never before not
admired him, but this was a new feeling,
“I’m supposed to take this with
food,” Rob said, holding up a pill for Celia to see as he walked back in. He sat down beside her and
swallowed it, chasing it with his milkshake. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
Suddenly Celia lost her own
appetite and put down her milkshake on the table next to her food. She felt a rush of sympathy for
Rob. She was highly aware of how
vulnerable Rob had been when he had asked her to marry him last fall. She had shot him down.
“So like I said, I’ve been doing a
lot of thinking the last few days”—
“I’m not sure when you would have
done that, as busy as you have been taking care of me,” Rob said. He was not eating now, but was sitting
cross-legged in his bathrobe, facing Celia.
“I was thinking while I was taking
care of you. I was thinking that
this is where I belong, with you.
Being with you – Saturday night, Sunday, taking you to the doctor
yesterday. It was my job and it is
a job I want. You didn’t keep me
from being where I was supposed to be – my roommate’s party Saturday
night. The party would have kept
me from being with you. This is
where I’m supposed to be.” Celia
paused, looking Rob in the eye.
“This is where I would like to be forever.”
Rob held out his hand toward
Celia. In it, resting in
satin inside a small velvet box, was the diamond ring he had bought in
October. The one she had
“How did you know what I was going
to say?” Celia asked.
How does Rob answer?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Moving Forward? (Joanne’s response)
I find Harold's post intriguing, and I am reminded yet again just how different the perspectives of others can be. It never occurred to me that Celia might be hurt by Rob's behavior; rather I suspect she finds it amusing, as Harold did. Since she has turned her corner toward Rob, and has been "tending" him during his flu, so to speak, Celia seems better able to manage her own needs. If Rob's come first in this instance, Celia grasps that hers still matter and will be attended to soon. If Celia is hurt, I suspect she can speak that to Rob and he can hear it. More important to those reading a relationship blog, though, is the potent truth about relationships illustrated by how differently Harold and I responded to Rob's "guy-ness." Imagine being in an intimate relationship with someone who sees black where you see white, and vice versa. In short, that's marriage!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Moving forward? (Harold’s response)
I couldn't help but have a smile on my face with this latest episode. It just has a "feel good" sense to it. After all the topsy turvey incidents in Rob and Celia's relationship, I feel for the first time that they are on solid footing.
Celia has been doing a lot of thinking over the past few weeks. And, this time of reflection has served her well in getting in touch with what she really wants out of the relationship. In many ways (and as Joanne suggested a couple of weeks ago) it is amazing how much clarity we can get about the direction of our relationships if we genuinely take the time to just think and sit with our feelings. Unfortunately, many of us are too busy to pay attention to feelings. Have you ever been there?
I think my biggest chuckle, however, came with Rob's "typical guy" behavior. Celia has cued up Rob that she has something important to say. Rob's ears perk up. He tells her to spill her guts. Then in classic guy fashion he dives into a burger and voices his appreciation that his appetite is back before Celia can even say a word. While this is funny, it does also serve a serious lesson to all of us for occasions that aren't funny.
Many of us need to do a better job listening. Have you recently stunted what should have been a meaningful conversation because your attention drifted elsewhere? Have you been too quick to respond to your partner's comments without truly understanding the heart from which those comments are coming? It is too easy in the hustle and bustle of life to not be fully present at the important moments. Most of us can do better. And, we need to if we want our own relationships to move forward.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Rob has had the flu for four
days, so Celia has not yet told him about her evolution in thought about their
Rob had never before been so sick
that his mother considered driving out from Cleveland to take care of him. He might have taken her up on the offer
had Celia not been so fully present for him. Saturday night she had even spent the night on his sofa,
which at the time seemed strange, but she told him earlier today that his fever
was high enough then that she thought he might need the emergency room in the
middle of the night. On Sunday she
went home only long enough to shower, change, and assess the party damage. Yesterday she had taken Rob to an
urgent-care facility since neither of them really had a doctor, and for the
last twenty-four hours he had been taking anti-viral medication with every
meal. He was beginning to
feel human again, and although he couldn’t imagine going back to work tomorrow
he realized he was hungry for something besides chicken soup and jello.
As if on cue, his front door
opened and Celia walked in with wonderfully aromatic bags of burgers.
“Wow. That’s some magical medicine they gave you yesterday,” she
said as she put down the bags and her purse and took off her coat. “You are beginning to look like yourself
again. How do you feel?” She brought the food to the table,
clearing it off to make room.
“Like the magic is working. My head’s not hurting for the first
time since Saturday.”
“Good.” Celia seemed more pleased than he expected from that news update. “I hoped you might be ready for
something a little more substantial, food and otherwise.
“Otherwise?” Rob sat up on the sofa so there was
room for Celia to join him, which she did. Together they began to unpack the food.
“There are some things I want to
talk to you about. Are you up for
“I think they’re good things.”
“Then, have at it.” Rob dug into the burger. “Man, this
tastes good. You are an truly an
angel of mercy.” He slurped a chocolate
milkshake and shoveled a few fries into his mouth. Celia played with her food, though Rob could tell she was
pleased at the gusto of his response as she watched him.
“I realized something this
weekend,” she said. “As if I had
this massive perspective shift about everything. We were getting ready for the party Saturday night, and I
took a look around at my roommates and my life and it hit me”—
Rob stopped eating and looked at
Celia. Something had changed; she
seemed different as she talked.
Actually, she had seemed different all weekend, he realized, but he had
figured that was because he was delirious.
--“that I am so done with this
all. I am ready to move
forward. I am ready to”—
“Stop,” Rob said. “Hold that thought. I need to get something.”
What does Rob get?
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