Sheryl Paul Nissinen

(WOMENSENEWS)–You just got engaged to a terrific man and you are starting to plan your dream wedding. You must be on a never ending high, right? Well, maybe not.

While the $50 billion to $70 billion bridal industry fosters a lily-white Cinderella image of picture-perfect brides and fairytale weddings, a new crop of books, Web sites and bridal consultants is slowly sprouting that address the–dare they say–unpleasant emotional upheaval wedding planning may generate.

“There is an ingrained belief that this is supposed to be the best time in a person’s life and people don’t want to let go of the fantasy,” said Sheryl Paul Nissinen, a bridal counselor in Los Angeles and author of “The Conscious Bride: Women Unveil Their True Feelings about Getting Hitched.” “But grief and loss and terror, these are normal feelings prior to a wedding.” In her book, Nissinen contends that fears about loss and death in Western culture prevent people from seeing the days, weeks and months before marriage for what they really are: a period of transition that naturally entails the pain of loss and grieving.

While female elders in tribal cultures often prepare brides-to-be by talking with them about marriage as a rite of passage, Westerners tend to live busy, isolated lives without much chance to discuss the underlying tumult they may feel ahead of a wedding, Nissinen says.

For many of the 2.4 million brides in the United States each year, the period before marriage may be filled with conflicting emotions. A bride-to-be’s feelings of happiness and joy may also be tinged with fears about her loss of independence, concerns about her choice of a life-long mate or worries that her divorced parents will not be able to get through the wedding without chucking the seven-tiered cake at each other.

Former Brides Delving Into Abyss

Until recently, brides looking for literature to help them deal with the emotional and psychological issues surrounding the engagement and marriage found only a Hope diamond-sized void. Now, many of these former brides are the very people filling the gap.

Soon after Lori Leibovich became engaged in August 2000, she started feeling stressed about everything from the details of the wedding to issues of commitment, monogamy and religion. She began searching for books and Web sites that went beyond the fluff of bridal magazines, but she came up empty-handed.

The bride-to-be, an editor by profession, decided it was time for women to have a place to share their concerns, fears and thoughts on weddings and marriage. In June 2001, Leibovich launched, a New York-based Web site that now has 365,000 unique visitors a month. “I started this as a side project and almost instantly it became clear I wasn’t the only person struggling,” said Leibovich, now happily married for almost two years and living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Rather than offer tips on what flowers are available for a March wedding or how to find the perfect gown, the site allows people to explore some of the darker sides of weddings and marriage. In one article, a woman writes about how her husband’s raunchy behavior at his bachelor party eventually undermined their union. Another article explores the similarities and differences across two generations of married life. The site also has an active “kvetch” room, where women (and men) can share the gory details about whacky bridesmaids who want to take over pre-wedding activities and seek advice about catering to the needs of divorced parents.

Overdosing on Bridal Magazines

After an overdose of bridal magazines, many women who have turned to some of the new resources say they have found comfort in their realistic approach to the trials and tribulations involved in planning a wedding and getting hitched.

Connecting with other brides-to-be through the IndieBride Web site was wonderful, said Elizabeth Reeves, a 37-year-old social worker from Tucson who married last October. “People were talking critically about all of the crazy social aspects of marriage and the wedding process.”

For brides-to-be looking for additional support, some counselors, including Sheryl Paul Nissinen and Bethann Schacht of Holliston, Mass., have developed practices specifically geared to brides. Both Nissinen and Schacht offer phone sessions to anyone anywhere in the world. Nissinen said that her clients have phoned from as far afield as Lebanon, Australia and India to discuss their fears and concerns.

“Some women just need to be heard and validated. For some women they need a lot more than that,” said Nissinen. Her next book, “The Conscious Brides Wedding Planner: How to Prepare Emotionally, Practically and Spiritually for a Joyous and Meaningful Wedding” is due out from New Harbinger Publications in December. “Marriage brings up grief from an old loss.”

Anxieties for All Ages

Young and old brides are equally likely to face some sort of emotional and psychological turbulence ahead of the wedding day, although the reasons may vary. Experts say that young brides may have anxieties about separating from their families, while an older bride may mourn the loss of her independence.

Whatever the underlying issue, coming to terms with one’s concerns and working them through before the wedding is considered the best way of making the occasion more joyous and the beginning stages of marriage more enjoyable.

Schacht, a licensed mental-health counselor who became a bridal coach after experiencing her own rocky engagement, says women who neglect their emotions during the heady run up to the wedding may find the first year of marriage especially difficult. After months of “self-denial,” some women crash in a bout of post-wedding depression.

“You are going through a huge transition and people are asking you about your shoes and your dress and your flowers. Nobody’s asking you how you are feeling,” said Schacht. “Not dealing with the emotional implications really does have fallout.”

Jennifer Friedlin is a freelance journalist based in New York.

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